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The Secret of the 





How One Man’s 

Obsession Led to the Solution of 

Ancient Egypt’s Greatest Mystery 

HarperCollins e-books 


I dedicate this book to my two closest friends: the video artist 
Bulle Plexiglass* (my wife Michelle) and Henri, my father, with 
whom I’ve all my life had a very strong relationship and a close 

I want to thank Bulle for always pushing me to go to the 
essential in life, to live every day full-time with ethics and pas- 
sion. That vision of life led us, in the late nineties, to take a sab- 
batical year in New York looking for new ideas. Thanks to that 
break — our break with routine — I came back to Paris with new 
tools (digital 3-D and Internet), ready for what I call my third 
life — a totally unexpected one, focusing on one of the last mys- 
teries on earth: trying to resolve how the Great Pyramid was 
built! In a few words: the Man in Black would have never existed 
without Bulle. 

I want to thank Henri for having ignited, almost ten years 
ago, my passion for the Pyramid of Khufu with an idea of genius: 
that true great pyramids were built not from the outside but from 
within, a breakthrough concept relative to what has been thought 
for two hundred years. This is the idea that I unconsciously was 
looking for for my third life. And I’m proud that our Khufu 
Adventure has kept us close to each other. Henri recently turned 
eighty-five and is still “young and active”; I have the feeling that 
this Khufu Adventure is no little cause for that. 

I want also to pay tribute to Renee, my late mother, who was 
always very anxious about the future of her son and daughter- 
in-law, concerned about the difficult period Bulle and I went 
through financially. Sadly, she passed away three years ago after 
a long and terrible illness. She was no longer with us when the 
“Khufu Story” started to become recognized and respected. 

To Brigitte 

— J-P.H. 

r ww 


Acknowledgments vi 

The Man in Black I 
Birth of the Pyramid 7 
Meeting with the Master 19 
Imhotep Builds the Step Pyramid 23 
Sneferu: King of the Pyramids 29 
An Architect Is Born 37 
Architect Adrift 43 
A Troubled Bridge? 47 
Hemienu Plans the Great Pyramid 49 
The Underground Burial Chamber 79 
Photographic Insert I 

Modern Tomb Raiders: The Search for Hidden Chambers 85 
The Grand Gallery 93 
The Burial Chamber 107 



Hemienu’s Solution 113 

First Plans 125 

Anomaly Rising 133 

The Notch 137 

The Internal Ramp 139 

Photographic Insert II 

The Capstone 145 

The Difficult Years 151 

The Internal Ramp Goes Public 155 

The Time Machine to Hemienu 167 

The Search for the Internal Ramp 171 

What’s Next? 185 


Appendix I: The Search for Imhotep 191 
Appendix II: The Lost Pyramid 194 
Appendix III: The Case of the Missing Queen 
Appendix IV: Making Khufu’s Sarcophagus 199 
Appendix V: The Pyramid’s Angle 201 
Endnotes 203 
Bibliography 209 
Photography Credits 215 
Index 217 
About the Authors 
Other Books by Bob Brier 

About the Publisher 


N early ten years ago, when my father and I started our amazing 
adventure about Khufu, we were just the two of us. At the 
time of the publication of this book, we are no longer alone: 
hundreds of smart, skilled, and friendly people joined us throughout 
these long years. The tiny stream from the early times became a large 
river, still growing more and more, day after day. It would be quite 
impossible to thank by name each of them in these acknowledgments, 
but I want them to know how deep my gratitude is for their support, 
help, and advice. 

I want to thank all the civil engineering experts from the CNISF (Con- 
seil National des Ingenieurs et des Scientifiques de France) who were, 
from the end of 1999, the first interested in our studies. Their knowledge 
and competence in the construction field have always been very useful for 
us. Later, they formed the backbone of the ACGP (Association Construire 
la Grande Pyramide;, an associa- 
tion set up in 2003 to financially support the development of the theory 
and to help set up a scientific survey on the Giza Plateau. 

I am grateful to the founding members of the ACGP, among them 
Jean Billard, Franqois Levieux, Jean-Louis Simonneau, Paul Allard, 



Bernard Marrey, Paul Lemoine, Daniel Solvet, Charles Bambade, Do- 
minique Ferre, Georges Reme, Emilienne Dubois, and Ruth Schu- 
mann-Antelme. Many others joined the ACGP, mainly as honorary 
members because of their valuable involvement as scientists, Egyptolo- 
gists, engineers, personalities, or simply people passionate about ancient 

My thanks go to my Egyptian friends, among them Mourad M. Bak- 
houm, Farid Atiya, Hany Helal, Naheed Abdel Reheem, Brigitte Boulad, 
Sherine Mishriki, Hassan Benham, Mounir Neamatalla, Taha Abdallah, 
Mahmoud Ismail, Essam El Maghraby, Atef Moukhtar, Waffiq Shamma, 
Nadia Fanous, Sayed Kotb, and the staff of the Victoria Flotel in Cairo. 

My thanks go to my French friends, among them Denis Denoel, 
Marc Buonomo, Pierre Grussenmeyer, Franqois Schlosser, Jean Car- 
ayon, Hubert Labonne, Jean Berthier, Raoul Jahan, Herve Piquet, 
Raphael Thierry, Albert Ranson, Jean-Jacques Urban-Galindo, Pierre 
Deletie (deceased), Hui Duong Bui, Guy Delbrel, Dominique Gimet, 
Francois de Closets, and . . . Bernard, my brother. 

My thanks go to my other non-French friends, among them Craig 
B. Smith, Bob Goldberg, Roman Golicz, Jon Bodsworth, Jack Bak- 
layan, Jeffrey Kearney, Lionel Woog, Mark Rose, Norman Stockle, 
Jack Scaparro, Pat Remler, and Bob Brier. 

My thanks go to the following companies that have supported the 
Khufu Adventure since 2004 through financial or technical donations 
to the ACGP: Eiffel (Jacques Huillard), Dassault Systemes (Bernard 
Charles); Thales Group (Thierry Brizard); Schneider Electric Egypte, 
(Frederic Abbal, Emmanuel Lemasson); Gaz de France Egypte (Pat- 
rick Longueville, Jean-Louis Chenel); Air France (Franqois Brousse); 
Jacquet SA (Christian Jacquet), GPI (Michel Gergonne); Borifer 
FIB (Jean-Fran^ois Bordenave); Enerpac France (Guillaume Butty); 
Groupe Pyramides Egypte (Bruno Neyret); Arab Consulting Engineers 
(Mourad M. Bakhoum); and Farid Atiya Press (Farid Atiya). Without 
their support, the Khufu Adventure would have been long dead. 

My thanks also for the Egyptologists Audran Labrousse, Dieter 
Arnold, and Rainer Stadelmann, who simply took the time to listen 
to me, even though I don’t belong to the Egyptology community. The 
interest they showed and their advice are those of respectable people. 

I wish to include a special acknowledgment to Mehdi Tayoubi, 
Richard Breitner, Fabien Barati, Emmanuel Guerriero, and the whole 



“Khufu Revealed” team ( at Dassault Systemes 
and Emissive. We have already spent three years together on Khufu’s 
Pyramid. Something tells me that we have a lot of work still ahead, and 
that one day in the near future we will be able to tell more about this 
amazing pyramid. 

Special thanks to my friend Laurent Chapus. 

I hope those I haven’t named above will forgive me, but I want 
them to be sure that I think about them as much as those I have. 

Bob, Pat . . . thank you for all. 


T here are many people to thank and on the top of my list is Jean- 
Pierre Houdin. Helping him with Secret of the Great Pyramid 
has been a wonderful intellectual adventure. I haven’t learned 
so much from one person since graduate school! I asked so many ques- 
tions about the Great Pyramid that we now both laugh when I say, “I 
have a question.” Jean-Pierre, I hope you get to take your walk up the 

On a more earthly level I am indebted to my agent, Liza Dawson. 
More than just an agent, Liza is a superb editor who always pushes me 
to say more and do better. When Liza was satisfied that we had a book, 
she placed me in the capable hands of Elisabeth Dyssegaard, my editor 
at Smithsonian Books. Elisabeth understood the project right from the 
beginning, guided the book, improved my writing, and even made the 
endeavor fun. Her assistant, Kate Antony, somehow made sense of all 
Jean-Pierre’s diagrams and illustrations and was midwife at the birth of 
order out of chaos. 

As in all the books I have written, my wife, Pat Remler, not only 
forced me to clarify my murky prose, but also provided crucial photos. 
Finally, I want to thank yet another unofficial editor, Judith Turner, 
whose architectural knowledge saved me time and again. 

Thank you all! 


The Man in Black 

A lmost all Egyptologists receive mail from strangers. Sometimes 
it is from reincarnated pharaohs; sometimes it is from prospec- 
tive tourists who want to know if they can drink the water. 
(You can’t.) Because my specialty is mummies, I receive hundreds of 
letters and e-mails from sixth graders who have been studying Egypt in 
school and want to mummify their recently deceased parakeets. About 
twice a year I receive offers from people who want to donate their 
bodies for mummification when they die. To these good folks I reply 
that I did that once, as a research project, and have now moved on. 

No matter what our Egyptological specialty, we all receive com- 
munications from retired engineers with theories of how the pyramids 
were built. Usually there is an obvious flaw that even I can spot. On 
June 16, 2003 I received an e-mail from a French architect, Jean-Pierre 
Houdin, who had his own theory of how the Great Pyramid of Giza 
had been built. My friend Jack Josephson, an art historian who also 
has a degree in engineering, had suggested he contact me. Jack is a no- 
nonsense type of guy; I knew that if he told Houdin to contact me, it 
would be worthwhile to meet him. So I invited Jean-Pierre for dinner. 
Also coming was my friend Armand, an engineer who had been to 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

Egypt, and his wife, as well as another friend, Jack Scaparro, who was 
working on a novel set in Egypt. My Egyptologist wife, Pat, rounded 
out a receptive audience of five. 

Jean-Pierre arrived at precisely 4:00 p.m., as suggested. We wanted 
time to hear and discuss his theory before dinner at seven, but would 
soon discover that three hours was not nearly enough time. This was 
not your ordinary pyramid theory. Our guest was dressed all in black, 
including a fashionable black leather jacket — in New York in June. 
A well-manicured gray-haired man of fifty, he had a pleasant smile 
and spoke heavily accented but good English. We were soon gath- 
ered around the coffee table as Jean-Pierre set up his laptop. He ex- 
plained that he had given up his architectural practice five years ago so 
he could devote himself to the puzzle of how the Great Pyramid was 
built. Working out of his Paris apartment, he spent six or seven hours 
a day creating elaborate 3-D computer simulations of the interior and 
exterior of the Great Pyramid. As his computer models progressed he 
became more and more obsessed with the Pyramid, until it was all he 
thought about. 

Jean-Pierre’s interest in the Great Pyramid began in 1999 when his 
father, an engineer, watched a television documentary on the pyramids 
and realized the program’s presentation of how the Great Pyramid was 
built was all wrong. He had another idea of how the huge blocks were 
raised to the top, a revolutionary idea, different from anything anyone 
had ever proposed, so he called his son Jean-Pierre and laid it out. 

The father-son team was ideal to tackle this mystery. Henri Houdin 
had earned a PhD in engineering from Paris’s prestigious Ecole des 
Arts et Metiers. In 1950, as a twenty-seven-year-old engineer, he was 
sent to Ivory Coast to build their infrastructure. When he arrived there 
were eight kilometers of paved roads; when he left there were high- 
ways, bridges, and power plants. For decades Jean-Pierre had designed 
houses and office buildings; he knew about planning big projects. The 
two were equipped to answer the question how the Great Pyramid was 
built, but it would not be easy. Eventually the search for the answer 
would take over both their lives. 

While his laptop booted up, Jean-Pierre explained how his com- 
puter graphics helped him understand the interior and exterior of the 
Great Pyramid. With new, sophisticated software developed for archi- 
tects, he created 3-D images of the chambers inside the Great Pyra- 

The Man in Black 


mid. Then, on his computer screen, he could rotate the images to see 
the spatial relationships between the rooms — what features were on the 
same level, what parts had to have been built first, where the largest 
stones in the Pyramid were placed. 

As he clicked the keypad, beautiful diagrams of the Pyramid ap- 
peared and we realized we were in the presence of a man who knew 
the Great Pyramid intimately. He explained why some blocks in the 
Pyramid were limestone and others granite; why the patterns of stone 
in some walls were different from others. I have friends who are pyra- 
mid experts, but I had never heard anything from them as detailed as 
Jean-Pierre’s explanation. I was astounded by the quality of his graph- 
ics. Little figures hauled blocks up inclined ramps and put them in place 
with ingenious lifting devices. He even had topographical maps of the 
Giza Plateau to show how the architects of the Great Pyramid took 
advantage of the natural contours of the land to move huge blocks of 
stone. The images weren’t just informative, they were beautiful. I had 
just completed a high -budget documentary for The Learning Channel 
on pyramids around the world. We’d spent thousands and thousands of 
dollars on our graphics, and Jean-Pierre’s were better! 

Jean-Pierre explained the difficulties with the two competing the- 
ories of how the blocks in the Pyramid were raised to the top. The 
single ramp theory, so often shown in television documentaries, could 
be easily discredited. The basic idea is that blocks were hauled up a 
long ramp constructed against one of the sides of the Pyramid. As the 
Pyramid grew, the ramp was raised and extended. The problem is that 
to keep the slope gentle enough so men could haul blocks, the ramp 
would have to be a mile long. If the Pyramid were being built on the 
site of New York’s Empire State Building, the ramp would extend 
all the way into Central Park, about twenty-five city blocks. Build- 
ing just the ramp would have taken thousands of men decades. Also, 
there would have been a tremendous amount of debris from such a 
ramp, and rubble doesn’t just disintegrate in the desert; but huge piles 
of rubble have never been found. Perhaps most damaging to the single 
ramp theory is the fact that there is practically no place to put such a 
long ramp on the Giza Plateau. 

The second theory fared no better in Jean-Pierre’s analysis. It pos- 
ited that a ramp had corkscrewed around the outside of the Pyramid 
itself, like a road winding around a mountain. This solves the no-space 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

problem. But this theory has a fatal flaw as well. The Pyramid has 
four corners, and as the Pyramid grew, the architects had to constantly 
sight along those corners to make sure the edges were straight and thus 
ensure that they would meet at a perfect point at the top. But a ramp 
corkscrewing up the outside would have obscured these sight lines. 
Thus this too couldn’t be how the ancient Egyptians raised the blocks 
to the top. 1 

Jean-Pierre showed us graphics of what the Pyramid looked like, 
year by year, as it was being built. And then he sprang his theory. He 
claimed that inside the Great Pyramid was a mile -long ramp corkscrew- 
ing up to the top, that had remained undetected for 4,500 years! We 
were astonished. The theory was so radical, so different from anything 
ever imagined, that it seemed impossible. But as the parade of graph- 
ics continued on the computer screen and Jean-Pierre explained the 
details, it seemed more and more credible, even probable. Here was 
a solution that answered the questions Egyptologists had been asking 
for decades. Somehow the centuries-old mystery of the Great Pyramid 
had been solved by this intense Frenchman dressed in black. I had the 
feeling that this theory just might be one of the great moments in the 
intellectual history of the world. 

We were all overwhelmed by Jean-Pierre’s step-by-step explanation 
of the new theory, but the Jean-Pierre Pyramid Show was just begin- 
ning. For two more hours, a parade of graphics and explanations of Pyra- 
mid minutiae appeared on his laptop. We saw what the Pyramid looked 
like after five years, seven years, ten years, twenty years, until it seemed 
as if we were watching it rise block by block. There are three cham- 
bers inside the Great Pyramid, and Jean-Pierre gave us the construction 
details of all three. Two of the rooms — the King’s Chamber and the 
Queen’s Chamber — were clearly intended for burials. They are rectan- 
gular rooms where you can put a sarcophagus, statues, funerary furni- 
ture, and anything else needed for the next world. The great puzzle is the 
mysterious Grand Gallery. It doesn’t make any architectural sense. It is a 
long hallway sloping upward inside the Pyramid, leading to the King’s 
Chamber. But why the twenty-eight-foot ceiling? And why line the side 
walls with low stone benches with strange grooves carved in them? Our 
guest in black had an answer for every question. 

After three hours Jean-Pierre was still just warming up, but he had 
lost his audience; we were all brain-dead. Jean-Pierre had no idea that 

The Man in Black 


much of what he had thrown at us had simply bounced off. None of us 
was nearly so familiar with the Pyramid as he was; there were concepts 
we just couldn’t wrap our nonarchitect brains around. But we were 
all impressed. Jean-Pierre could visualize the Great Pyramid in three 
dimensions in a way no one had ever imagined possible. The man in 
black was amazing. 

Feeding Jean-Pierre was the only way I could think of to slow him 
down. Still, he continued his Pyramid seminar, laying out the physical 
evidence to support his theory and so the discussion continued over 
pasta. By dessert the radical new idea was looking better and better. I 
asked Jean-Pierre what most impressed him when he first saw the Great 
Pyramid. “Oh, I’ve never been there,” he answered nonchalantly. The 
man who had given up his career as an architect and devoted five years 
of his life unraveling the secrets of the Great Pyramid had never seen 
it — and didn’t want to! When I pressed Jean-Pierre about visiting the 
Pyramid, he wasn’t interested. “Oh, I know what it looks like,” he said, 
and added some polite response like, “Oh yes, I must do that.” Clearly, 
for him the Great Pyramid was an abstract intellectual puzzle to be 
solved, not a monument to be visited. Perhaps he was afraid he would 
be disappointed; perhaps he feared something he might see would dis- 
prove his theory and the search would be over. 

As the evening wore on the question became, what to do next? Here 
was a man with what could be the most important archaeological dis- 
covery of the century. For five years he had devoted his life to solving 
an incredibly difficult intellectual puzzle. It was one of those rare times 
when obsession seems to have produced something positive — indeed, 
something wonderful, so wonderful that I found myself being drawn 
into the obsession. I wanted to be part of it; I wanted to be there when 
Jean-Pierre found his internal ramp. 

Birth of the Pyramid 

O f the seven wonders of the ancient world, only the pyramids 
still stand. Virtually nothing remains of the Hanging Gar- 
dens of Babylon; of the Colossus of Rhodes only an occa- 
sional fragment turns up in a fisherman’s net, and nonhistorians would 
find it difficult to even name the remaining four (the Statue of Zeus at 
Olympia, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Lighthouse at Alexan- 
dria, and the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus). Each year the pyramids are 
visited by millions of tourists who stare in wonder at the achievement 
of ancient man. When you stand in front of the Great Pyramid you can 
almost feel its massive weight. 

One hundred and seven pyramids are scattered throughout Egypt, 
but the pyramids on the Giza Plateau are the famous ones. They are the 
largest, best preserved, and most visited of all the pyramids. The Great 
Pyramid is only a few feet taller than the one next to it, but because of 
its unique maze of internal rooms and passages, it is the one with all the 
legends. The Pyramid’s entrance remained unknown until the ninth 
century when the caliph A1 Mamun tunneled deep into its core and hit 
a passageway. By torchlight his men followed the passageway upward 
until they discovered the Queen’s Chamber, a small rectangular room 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

with twenty-two huge limestone rafters forming the ceiling. To their 
disappointment, the room was empty, but still in search of treasure, they 
continued upward through the Grand Gallery to the King’s Chamber, 
where they found only an empty sarcophagus; all the treasure had been 
carried off centuries before. Still, the adventures of A1 Mamun’s band 
of would-be tomb robbers became one of the 1001 tales in the Arabian 
Nights, that says A1 Mamun found weapons of metal that would not rust 
and glass that would not break. 2 Modern science has studied, mapped, 
and photographed the Great Pyramid more than any other pyramid, 
yet it still harbors mysteries. There are rooms whose purposes are un- 
known, and only recently a robotic camera sent up the air shafts in the 
Queen’s Chamber discovered tiny doors with copper handles. What 
lies behind these doors is still unknown. 3 

Of all these mysteries, the biggest is how the Great Pyramid was 
built. The Egyptians were a nation of accountants. They recorded ev- 
erything — how many of the enemy they killed in battle, the names 
of the pharaoh’s children, even cake recipes. We have medical papyri, 
short stories, laundry lists, reports of expeditions — but not a single doc- 
ument recording how the pyramids were built. I can tell you the names 
of the two horses that pulled Ramses the Great’s chariot at the Battle 
of Kadesh (Mut Is Content and Victory in Thebes) but I can’t tell you 
how the Egyptians hauled those huge blocks up the Great Pyramid or 
how many men worked on the Pyramid at any one time. The ancient 
Egyptian records are silent when it comes to the greatest building proj- 
ect in the history of man. Because of this, wild theories have always 

When Menachem Begin, Israel’s prime minister, visited the pyra- 
mids, he proudly proclaimed that his ancestors built them. The prime 
minister had bought into one of the many pyramid myths. When Be- 
gin’s ancestors were in bondage in Egypt, the pyramids were already 
ancient. The Old Testament never mentions the pyramids. It does, 
however, say that the Israelites built the store cities of Ramses and 
Pithum, which places the Israelites sojourn in Egypt during the reign of 
Ramses the Great — a thousand years after the Great Pyramid was built. 4 
Hebrew slaves hauling blocks is pure Hollywood. The pyramids were 
built by free labor — Egyptian construction workers who were paid for 
their services — but slaves building the Pyramid isn’t the only Biblical 
nonsense connected with the Pyramid. There’s a story in the Bible that 

Birth of the Pyramid 


has nothing to do with the pyramids, but in the eighteenth century 
somehow it was linked to them. 

Remember the Biblical story of Joseph and how he interprets the 
pharaoh’s dream of seven lean cows devouring seven fat cows? 5 Joseph 
explains that there will be seven prosperous years for Egypt, but they 
will be followed by seven years of famine. Based on Joseph’s dream in- 
terpretation, grain is stored during the prosperous years so Egypt will 
not starve during the lean years. Where was all that grain stored? You 
guessed it — in the Great Pyramid. One of the earliest theories of the 
function of the pyramids was that they were “Joseph’s granaries.” 

There are so many things fundamentally wrong with this theory that 
it could only have been invented by someone who had never seen the 
pyramids. Think about it. The pyramid would have to have been built 
in less than seven years in order to store the grain for the lean years. It 
might be argued that the pyramids were built as granaries before Joseph 
arrived on the scene; that they were always Egypt’s way of storing 
grain. But we still have the problem of where to put the grain inside 
the pyramid. It’s mostly solid! Even if the few interior rooms inside the 
pyramid were used to store the grain, that would entail it being carried 
through narrow, dark passages over slippery inclines and up to a great 
height inside the pyramid. No, whoever first concocted the Joseph’s 
granary theory never saw the pyramids. 

Prior to the eighteenth century, you could get away with this kind 
of theory because practically no one outside of Egypt had seen the pyr- 
amids. Most of the early published illustrations of the Giza pyramids 
were drawn by artists who had heard about them but certainly not seen 
them. They had been told that they were on a plateau, and were pointy, 
so they drew what they thought they looked like. Often they were too 
steep and too numerous. Finally, in the seventeenth century, when ad- 
venturous travelers began visiting Egypt, the theories about the Great 
Pyramid began to be based on observation, but that still didn’t mean 
they were sensible. 

One of the most common misconceptions about the Great Pyramid 
is that encoded in its measurements are secrets of the universe. In 1620, 
John Greaves, a young Oxford astronomer, visited the Pyramid. 6 Like 
many before him, he believed the Egyptians were an advanced civiliza- 
tion whose knowledge exceeded his. Greaves believed that the Egyp- 
tians knew the exact circumference of the earth, and was convinced 

Early depictions of the pyramids of Giza were often drawn by artists who had never been to 

Birth of the Pyramid 


that they had built this calculation into the dimensions of the Pyramid. 
In preparation for his visit to Giza, Greaves measured ancient monu- 
ments throughout Europe, trying to determine units of measure. He 
became familiar with the Roman foot, the English foot, and the Greek 
foot, and all kinds of other measures. Armed with precisely made brass 
measuring rods, he sailed for Egypt to conduct the first scientific survey 
of the Pyramid. 

Greaves’s exploration of the Great Pyramid was quite different from 
what the modern tourist experiences. There were no lights. Greaves 
had to make his way by torchlight, passing through swarms of bats and 
more than once nearly passing out from the stench of the bat guano. 
When Greaves ascended the Grand Gallery to reach the King’s Cham- 
ber, there was no wood planking over which tourists now walk. Nor 
were there handrails, so in the near dark, fighting bats and slippery 
inclines, Greaves worked his way into the bowels of the Pyramid. 
Through it all, dragging his measuring rods, he recorded the dimen- 
sions of the Pyramid as precisely as possible. In addition to his measure- 
ments, Greaves discovered a well-like chamber at the base of the Grand 
Gallery that was dug to provide air for the workers excavating the de- 
scending passageway. 

When he returned to London, he published his results in a small 
book titled Pyramidographia, but it was all for naught. His measurements 
were inaccurate. In Greaves’s day, the base of the Pyramid was cov- 
ered with a thirty-foot-high pile of rubble that obliterated its corners. 
Greaves was forced to estimate the base of the Pyramid and was off by 
more than fifty feet. To determine the height, Greaves climbed the 
Pyramid, counting the courses as he went. Estimating the number cov- 
ered with rubble, he came to a total of 297. Again he was off: his esti- 
mate of the height (499 feet) was too high. 

Sometimes it wasn’t just a matter of inaccurate measurements. 
Greaves was overwhelmed by the entire experience and got even the 
most basic things wrong. He says the burial chamber’s walls are made 
of six levels of stone; it’s five. Still, this was a pioneering attempt. Two 
hundred years later another astronomer would undertake a survey the 
Great Pyramid with greater accuracy. 

In March 1864, Piazzi Smyth, Astronomer Royal of Scotland, sailed 
for Egypt to conduct the most detailed measurement ever of the Great 
Pyramid. He believed that the Pyramid’s dimensions were the key to 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

Biblical revelations, so it was crucial for him to know exactly how tall, 
how wide, how deep the Pyramid and all its chambers were. Although 
the Pyramid predated Christianity by more than 2,000 years, Smyth 
was convinced it was actually a Christian monument. “The Great Pyr- 
amid was yet prophetically intended — by inspiration afforded to the 
architect from the one and only living God, who rules in heaven and 
announced vengeance against the sculptured idols of Egypt.” 7 

Smyth threw himself into the task of surveying the Pyramid with 
religious abandon, spending money he didn’t have to manufacture pre- 
cise instruments for his survey. He even invented a miniature eight-inch 
camera with photographic plates about the size of a modern slide, so he 
could photograph in the smallest of crevices. Thus when in March of 
1864 the Astronomer Royal and his devoted wife sailed for Egypt, with 
them went hundreds of pounds of carefully crated equipment they hoped 
would lead to revelations left by God that were encoded in the Pyramid. 
They arrived in Alexandria, made the daylong journey to Cairo, and 
soon took up residence in one of the tombs near the Pyramid. 

Smyth believed that the unit of measurement used by the Pyramid’s 
builders was something he called “the sacred cubit.” If he could deter- 
mine exactly how large the sacred cubit was, then he could determine 
how many cubits for the height of the Pyramid, how many cubits in the 
sides of the burial chamber, and so on. Then, once he had those dimen- 
sions, he could deduce the secret message they contained. For months 
Smyth crawled in and out of the Pyramid with his specially crafted 
measuring rods, “inclinators,” and cameras. He did indeed conduct the 
most precise survey of the Pyramid ever, and concluded that coded into 
the Pyramid’s measurements were the exact size, shape, and motions 
of the earth. 8 He concluded that the unit used in the construction of 
the Pyramid was also used in the construction of Solomon’s Temple 
and Noah’s Ark. From his measurements of the burial chamber and the 
empty sarcophagus in it, Smyth deduced the earth’s density. The expe- 
dition was a remarkable combination of exacting science and delusion. 

After Smyth returned home he published Life and Work at the Great 
Pyramid (1867). It was universally rejected by the scientific community 
as the ravings of a religious fanatic. For years Smyth churned out re- 
vised editions of his book and never gave up the theory. If the Astrono- 
mer Royal of Scotland formulated such theories, is it any wonder that 
some people today believe the Pyramid was built by aliens? 

Birth of the Pyramid 


A 1970s fad invested the pyramid shape with magical properties. 
Place a dull razor blade inside a cardboard pyramid and it will sharpen; 
put meat inside your mini pyramid and it will be preserved; some “pyr- 
amidiots” even wore small pyramids on their heads to be energized. 9 
The movie Stargate uses the Pyramid as a launchpad to the next world. 
The ancient Egyptians would have thought all this very funny. For 
them the pyramid shape had hardly any significance, certainly noth- 
ing magical. It was simply an architectural development, the same way 
our skyscrapers evolved out of smaller earlier buildings. For the Egyp- 
tians there was one and only one purpose for a pyramid — to protect the 
body of the pharaoh. It was all about life after death. 

No civilization has ever devoted more of its resources and energy to 
preparing for immortality than the Egyptians. Much of what we know 
about life in ancient Egypt comes from studying their physical prepara- 
tions for life in the next world. They were resurrectionists — they be- 
lieved they were going to get up and go again in the next world, where 
the party would continue forever. Because the next world was going to 
be a continuation of this one, you would need pretty much the same 
stuff you had in this world — clothing, food, furniture, even your dog. 
In 1906, the great Italian Egyptologist Ernesto Schiaparelli discovered 
the intact tomb of the architect Kha and his wife Merit. There, neatly 
folded, were all the clothes the couple would need for their journey 
to the afterlife complete with patches sewn on by Kha’s wife. In one 
corner of the tomb was the board game that Kha and Merit played in 
the evenings, and with it the stools they sat on. Because Kha was an 
architect, he couldn’t think of going to the next world without the 
cubit stick he used to measure his building projects. It’s all there in the 
Egyptian Museum in Torino, Italy, packed by Kha and Merit for the 
future. 10 They were literally going to take it with them. 

But what good were all the clothes you had packed for eternity if 
you couldn’t wear them? You needed your body. Enter mummifica- 
tion. As every sixth grader can tell you, skilled embalmers removed 
the brain through the nose with a long metal hook, the internal organs 
through a small abdominal incision, and then they dehydrated the 
body so it was preserved and could reanimate in the next world. We 
know most of this by examining mummies found in tombs. Like pyra- 
mid builders, the embalmers never committed the details of their craft 
to papyrus. I was able to fill in some additional details of the process 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

in 1994 when I mummified a human cadaver in the ancient Egyptian 
manner. 11 

The embalmers weren’t the only ones involved in the immortal- 
ity business. There were miners to dig the salts used to dehydrate the 
bodies, tomb cutters, artists to decorate tomb walls, coffin makers, 
scribes to write books of the dead, and priests to recite the prayers and 
perform the rituals needed for resurrection. All this cost money, but the 
Egyptians had it. Egypt was primarily a nation of farmers living along 
the Nile, but there was also a large middle class that could afford prepa- 
rations for the next life. Because Egypt had a strong central govern- 
ment (the pharaoh), there was organization and taxation. Farmers grew 
crops and an army of bureaucrats recorded information about the crops, 
collected taxes, oversaw shipments to government granaries, and made 
sure everything was running smoothly. Add to this the hierarchy of 
priests, high priests, temple overseers, and other religious professionals 
and you have a large middle class who can afford a nice tomb to house 
the possessions they are taking to the next world. 

Death was big business in ancient Egypt, and its biggest manifesta- 
tion is the Great Pyramid of Giza built for one, and only one, pur- 
pose — to house the body of the dead king. The pharaoh, the living 
Horus, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, needed a tomb that would 
protect his mummy and all the goods he would take with him to the 
next world, and so the pyramid was created. But it didn’t happen the 
way most people think it did — a bright young architect waking up 
one morning with the idea of building a pyramid. Rather, the pyramid 
shape was the result of hundreds of years of architectural development. 
It evolved; it wasn’t invented. To understand the Great Pyramid, you 
have to understand the evolution that led up to it, and the beginning of 
that evolution is, surprisingly, in London. 

O ne of the British Museum’s most popular attractions is a dead 
Egyptian nicknamed Ginger because of his light-colored hair. 
Ginger died more than 5,000 years ago, centuries before embalming was 
invented and the first mummies were created, but still, he is well pre- 
served. If you had known him when he was alive, you could still recog- 
nize him today after all those centuries. Ginger is a natural mummy, the 

Birth of the Pyramid 


“Ginger,” a 5,000-year-old mummy in the British Museum, was preserved naturally by burial in 
the dry Egyptian sand. 

result of his burial in the dry Egyptian sand. In prehistoric times bodies 
like Ginger were buried in sand pits in the desert. The sand dehydrated 
the bodies quickly, before they could be attacked by bacteria, preserving 
them as well as most artificial mummies produced later in the embalm- 
ers’ workshops. Ginger lies next to some of his possessions — pots, a reed 
mat, a necklace — suggesting that even as early as Ginger’s time, there 
was a belief in the next world. Just a few centuries after Ginger’s modest 
burial, the Egyptians would be building pyramids. But it was not a giant 
leap, not an all-at-once breakthrough; it was a step-by-step journey from 
Ginger’s burial to the Great Pyramid of Giza. 

The problem with being buried in a sand pit is that the bodies don’t 
stay buried — sand blows away, exposing the body to animals. Even 
today, if you walk off the tourist paths at Saqqara, ancient Egypt’s larg- 
est cemetery, you will sometimes see human bones protruding from 
the sand. Consequently, the next advance in ancient Egyptian burial 
practices was to bury the dead not in sand, but in bedrock. Clear away 
the sand, cut a deep shaft into the bedrock, and dig a burial chamber 
beneath the ground. Once the body and all the grave goods were in 
the burial chamber, the shaft was filled in with rubble to protect the 
body and its possessions. Then, on top of the shaft, above ground, a 

Because of their rectangular shape, early 
Egyptian tombs were called mastabas — 
Arabic for “bench.” 

^ - 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

chapel was erected where the family could visit the deceased, make of- 
ferings, and pay their respects. Because these chapels are rectangular, 
the modern Egyptians call them mastabas — Arabic for bench. 

They don’t look like much from the outside, kind of like ware- 
houses built of limestone blocks, but inside they are spectacular. The 
“warehouse” is divided into rooms, each about the size of a large living 
room. Some mastabas have a dozen or so rooms, imitating what the 
house of a well-heeled nobleman of 4,500 years ago would have looked 
like. It’s not the layout that is spectacular, it’s what is on the walls. 
Beautiful carvings show the daily life of the ancient Egyptians, letting 
the gods know how to treat the deceased. If a man liked duck hunting 
in the marshes, there he is on the wall, standing in his papyrus skiff, 
flinging his throw stick at a duck. Scenes along the Nile are shown in 
such detail that you can identify the species of fish beneath the water. 
In one scene a hippopotamus is giving birth, with the newborn emerg- 
ing from its mother. Eagerly awaiting the birth is a hungry crocodile. 

Other walls show the deceased with his entire family — wife, sons, 
daughters, even his servants. It’s the ancient Egyptian equivalent of a 
family photo. The idea was that if you showed everyone together, then 
they would all be together in the afterlife. The deceased wasn’t buried 
in these wonderfully decorated rooms; he was in the chamber beneath 
the mastaba. In the aboveground rooms, the family could occasionally 
gather for a meal and pay their respects to the deceased. The Egyptians 
had a saying, “To say the name of the dead is to make him live again,” 
and that’s just what would happen in these rooms. 

Mastabas play an important part on the path to pyramids. From Gin- 
ger’s humble burial in sand to the chapels of the noblemen of Egypt’s 
Old Kingdom, there is no great conceptual leap, merely an obvious 
progression. Even I could have come up with the idea of building a 
small structure on top of a burial to protect it. We can all understand 
why this was done. Jean-Pierre was wrestling with a step quite a bit far- 
ther down the road, a step that was, indeed, a quantum leap. To me his 
internal ramp theory seemed brilliant, but I’m not a pyramid expert. I 
knew that if this unknown architect from Paris was going to be taken 
seriously, he needed the support of a real pyramid expert. 

Meeting with the Master 

D ieter Arnold works on the first floor of New York’s Metro- 
politan Museum of Art. To get to his office you walk through 
the Met’s fabulous Egyptian galleries. Right in the middle of 
the collection is an unmarked door painted the same color as the wall. 
Behind this door is a world the public never sees: the offices of the 
Egyptian Department. It is a duplex maze of offices, all with books 
stacked high on desks, posters on walls advertising exhibitions of Egyp- 
tian art at museums around the world. This is where the curators plan 
exhibitions, research objects offered for sale to the Museum, and where 
Dieter Arnold hangs his hat when not excavating in Egypt. 

Dieter literally wrote the book — Building in Egypt — on ancient 
Egyptian construction techniques, but he is not an ivory tower aca- 
demic. Now in his early sixties, he looks much younger and still retains 
the muscular physique he developed climbing the Alps in his younger 
days. With his mane of black and silver hair, he is not what the public 
expects a brilliant scholar to look like. He has spent his career excavat- 
ing and rebuilding pyramids and moving large blocks of stone. When 
I have a question on pyramids, I turn to him. So I called Dieter and 
explained that Jean-Pierre seemed like the real deal to me. The next 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

day, Jean-Pierre, again dressed in black, met me at the Metropolitan 
Museum of Art and behind the unmarked door I introduced Jean- 
Pierre to Dieter. 

Dieter was in the middle of writing up his season’s excavation report 
and I knew his time was precious. After a season in the field moving 
stones, recording inscriptions, and restoring walls, the Met’s excava- 
tion team take their notes and prepare them for publication. This is 
not an easy task and involves coordinating many people with different 
skills — photographers, artists, excavators, translators of hieroglyphs; all 
have to combine their results to form a coherent picture of the season’s 
findings. This was the process Jean-Pierre and I interrupted on a sunny 
summer day in New York. 

Dieter was warm and welcoming, and Jean-Pierre was quickly 
doing his thing on his laptop. I hung back to watch Dieter’s reaction. 
At first he was quiet, once in a while interjecting a “Ja, ja” in his slight 
German accent, then asking a few questions about a concern he had 
about the theory, and with each of Jean-Pierre’s answers, another “Ja.” 
Soon Dieter was animatedly discussing the theory. I had asked for fif- 
teen minutes, but we stayed for more than an hour. Dieter never said he 
agreed with the theory, but clearly he thought it was worth consider- 
ing. Jean-Pierre had passed the test. As we were leaving, Dieter casually 
mentioned that at one of his early pyramid excavations in the 1980s 
they had found traces of something that looked like an internal ramp, 
but didn’t know what to make of it. Jean Pierre’s theory was looking 
more and more probable. 

During our meeting it became clear that while Jean-Pierre probably 
knew the Great Pyramid better than any one in the world, his focus 
was so narrow that he hardly knew any Egyptology. He thought there 
must be papyri discussing specific aspects of pyramid building. Dieter 
and I explained there were none. Established pyramid experts had the 
big picture, understood the context in which the Pyramid was built, 
knew what the civilization was like, but Jean-Pierre had a bad case 
of tunnel vision. He knew the blocks of the Pyramid and the tech- 
niques needed to build the Pyramid better than any of the experts, but 
aside from the nuts-and-bolts details, he was a babe in the woods. Even 
today, after hundreds of hours with him, I am not sure Jean-Pierre is 
really interested in Egypt; the Pyramid is his passion. It was clear that 
he needed help to get his theory tested. 

Meeting with the Master 


As Jean-Pierre and I parted on the steps of the Metropolitan 
Museum, he was elated. He knew that having someone as well re- 
garded as Dieter on his side was crucial to his credibility. The meeting 

important archaeological discovery of our time. My job would be to 
make connections for him, introduce him to other people necessary for 
the project’s success, and help him navigate the very narrow channels 
of Egyptian bureaucracy. 

he internal ramp theory was different from other Egyptological 

discoveries. Tutankhamen’s undisturbed tomb is the gold standard 
for all archaeological finds. Think of all the treasures, the fabulous art, 
the gold mask and coffins. It doesn’t get much better than that. But in 
a way, Jean-Pierre ’s discovery is even better. True, it will not produce 
any artifacts. If the ramp is indeed inside the Pyramid, it will almost 
certainly be empty. The excitement of the internal ramp is intellectual. 
If the theory is correct, it gives us a window into one of the greatest in- 
tellectual achievements of all time; it shows just how advanced ancient 
Egyptian architects were in planning the pyramids, how far ahead they 
had to visualize to overcome incredible obstacles. Indeed, ifJean-Pierre 
is right about the details of construction, the Pyramid might just be the 
most extraordinary engineering accomplishment of all time, a monu- 
ment in stone to what the human mind at its best is capable of. When I 
first heard Jean-Pierre’s theory I called some Egyptologist friends to try 
it out on them. They too were excited. They weren’t all convinced, but 
clearly this was big news. Convinced that Jean-Pierre’s theory was the 
most important project I could work on, I happily put my own research 
on the back burner. If his theory was correct, I wanted to be there 
when he took his long walk up that mile-long internal ramp. 

with Dieter convinced me that Jean-Pierre’s theory could be the most 

Imhotep Builds the 
Step Pyramid 

Saqqara, Egypt, 2668 b.c. 

O ur architect is Imhotep, but he was far more than just an 
architect. He was the royal physician who would later be 
deified by the Greeks and Romans as Aesculapius, the god 
of healing; he was the vizier, the equivalent of the prime minister of 
Egypt, the greatest nation on earth. He was the Leonardo da Vinci of 
Egypt, the first recorded genius in history. He also had the puzzling 
title of Maker of Stone Vessels — perhaps a hobby to unwind after a 
hard day at the office (s). Imhotep lived at the beginning of Egypt’s re- 
corded history, at the time when Egypt was just realizing its greatness. 
The pharaoh he served was King Zoser. (For a brief description of the 
search of Imhotep’s tomb, see Appendix I.) 

Egypt dominated the Near East for two reasons: the pharaoh and the 
Nile, the more obvious being the Nile. Each year the Nile overflowed 
its banks, depositing rich, dark topsoil, fertilizing the land. With this 
gift, Egypt could grow more crops than were needed to feed its pop- 
ulation of about one million. With all this food, Egypt could afford 
a professional standing army. Other countries had to make up their 
armies from farmers, carpenters, and whoever else could be rounded 
up when it was time to fight. Egypt had its army ready and waiting; 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

no country could withstand such an army. So each year, the Egyptian 
army marched out, terrorized other countries, and returned home with 
anything that wasn’t nailed down. War was a significant part of the 
Egyptian economy and the Nile made this possible. But the Egyptians 
had yet another advantage over neighboring countries: the pharaoh. 

Ancient Egypt was originally divided into two segments, Upper and 
Lower Egypt. Then sometime around 3200 b.c., a king from the south 
named Narmer marched north, defeated the northern king, and unified 
Egypt into the first nation in history. The story of Narmer ’s conquest 
is told on Egypt’s equivalent of the Magna Carta, the Narmer Palette. 
The palette has pride of place on the first floor of Cairo’s Egyptian 
Museum, just past the entrance. Carved from a single piece of slate, the 
palette is about two feet high and three inches thick. On the first side, 
Narmer is shown wearing the white crown of the south as he defeats 
his northern counterpart. On the flip side, Narmer leads a triumphal 
parade and wears the red crown of the north. He is the first king of 
both Upper and Lower Egypt. Symbolizing this unification, the palette 
shows two mythological creatures with their long necks intertwined. 
Egypt is a single nation and Narmer is its king. For 3,000 years, the 
icon of Egypt would be the pharaoh smiting his enemy, just as it ap- 
peared on the Narmer Palette. 

The Narmer Palette is the world’s first historical document. On one side King Narmer wears 
the white crown of the south, showing he is king of that region. On the second side of the pal- 
ette, Narmer has conquered the north and wears the red crown. Egypt has been unified. 

Imhotep Builds the Step Pyramid 


From this point on, Egypt would have a king as its ruler, but not an 
ordinary king. Unlike other kings of the ancient Near East, Egyptian 
pharaohs were gods. Pharaohs had the title King of Upper and Lower 
Egypt, but they were also Son of Re — the sun god. Never had such 
power been concentrated in the hands of one man. Even the calendar 
revolved around the pharaoh. When a new pharaoh was crowned, the 
calendar began anew — day 1, year 1 of the reign of Sesostris. When 
Sesostris died, the calendar was reset: day 1, year 1 of the reign of 

So when Imhotep began building a tomb for his pharaoh, he was in 
a unique position. Not only was he the royal architect, but he was also 
the prime minister of the wealthiest nation on the planet. He had all 
the money he needed and didn’t have to worry about the approval of 
committees. If the pharaoh wanted it, it would be built. The only limit 
was his imagination, and the brilliant Imhotep conceived of something 
totally new, a building in stone. 

Like his ancestors, Zoser was going to be buried beneath the ground 
with a huge mastaba above the burial chamber, but his mastaba was not 
going to be mud brick; it would be stone — the first significant stone 
building in history. As the mastaba grew, Imhotep gained confidence in 
his ability to build in stone and increased its size. Then came his second 
big idea. He would place another mastaba on top of the first, and then 
another, and then three more, creating the Step Pyramid of Saqqara, the 
world’s first pyramid. At 240 feet high, it is as tall as a modern twenty- 
five-story building, its base covering five acres. Probably ten times taller 
than any other structure in Egypt, it must have been a source of pride for 
the entire nation. Remember, this was a country where even the king 
lived in a mud brick palace. Then, all of a sudden, a huge stone building 
rises out of the desert. It must have been incredible. 

As fantastic as it was, there are signs that the Egyptians were just 
learning how to build in stone. The Step Pyramid is solid, there are 
no chambers inside, and two clues suggest the Egyptians hadn’t fully 
mastered stonework. First, the stones are not squared, their sides are 
not precise, and their corners aren’t true right angles. Because they are 
irregular, they don’t stack perfectly and some of the forces are directed 
outward rather than downward, making the pyramid unstable. To 
keep it from collapsing during the later stages of construction, Imho- 
tep slanted the external walls of the pyramid inward to counterbalance 

The Step Pyramid of Saqqara is 
the first stone building in history 

Imhotep Builds the Step Pyramid 


the outward forces. With all the stones angled toward the center of the 
pyramid, it is literally leaning in on itself. 12 

The second indication that Imhotep was just learning how to build 
in stone is the size of the blocks. They weigh less than 100 pounds each, 
small compared with the two-ton blocks that would be used in the 
Great Pyramid. Imhotep and his workers had not yet figured out how 
to move and lift massive stones; they were just feeling their way. The 
blocks look like giant mud bricks, only carved in stone. The Egyptians 
were imitating what they knew and were used to. 

The Step Pyramid does not stand alone in the desert. Imhotep built 
a virtual city in stone for Zoser, complete with chapels, houses, stat- 
ues — literally a petrified city. The pyramid complex is surrounded by a 
stone enclosure wall twenty feet high. Every few yards a false door was 
cut into the wall to look like a door, but there’s only one real entrance. 
When you step through this entrance, there are signs all around that 
you are at the birthplace of building in stone. Most tourists don’t see 
it; you have to know what to look for. You walk into a long hallway, 
but really you are inside a stone model of what an ancient palace built 
of wood and reeds looked like. Above your head, the ceiling sculpted 
in stone imitates the wooden beams of a palace. To the left and right of 
you are huge doors twelve feet high and eight feet wide, complete with 
hinges, but they will never swing shut; they are constructed of stone 
blocks. Think of giant Legos and you won’t be very wrong. As you 
continue into Zoser’s pyramid complex, you walk between two rows 
of stone columns, carved to look like bundles of papyri. Look closely 
and you will see that these columns are not freestanding, they are “en- 
gaged,” attached to the walls; Imhotep probably wasn’t sure if stone 
columns could stand alone. 

The Step Pyramid is an incredibly bold venture for the first build- 
ing in stone. You would expect smaller stone structures to come first, 
and then increase in size as Egypt worked up to something the size of 
the Step Pyramid. But no, there are no earlier stone buildings in Egypt. 
It’s not that they’re out there and archaeologists just haven’t found them 
yet. There are plenty of remains of early buildings and tombs, but they 
were all mud brick. If there were stone buildings, some would have 
been preserved. With no prior experience, Imhotep constructed the 
first building in stone — and the largest structure in the world. 

The pyramid is an impressive monument, but the burial chambers 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

beneath it are just as impressive. The corridors and rooms stretch for 
more than three miles. Imagine one of those crazy English maze gar- 
dens, only much bigger and carved out of bedrock a hundred feet below 
ground, and you’ll have some idea of where King Zoser was laid to 
rest. It’s more like something you’d expect beneath the Pentagon than 
the burial site of an ancient king. It’s mostly corridors, but every now 
and then there is a rectangular room cut from the rock to hold the pha- 
raoh’s treasures. Some of the rooms are still crammed with thousands 
of stone pots and vases for Zoser ’s journey to the next world. Inside 
the burial chamber, carved reliefs show the king running during the 
ritual of the Heb-Sed Festival, ensuring that he will be young forever. 
Some walls are lined with beautiful blue-green ceramic tiles, imitating 
the woven reed mats that covered the mud brick palace walls. Again, 
Imhotep was imitating the building materials of the living in a more 
durable substance suited for eternity. 

Imhotep conceived many innovations for his pharaoh’s burial place; 
the most puzzling is called the Southern Burial. A quarter of a mile 
south of the Step Pyramid is a second burial chamber for Zoser. It is 
not a pyramid, and today just looks like a deep hole in the ground — 
a shaft leads to a single burial chamber carved in the bedrock. Here 
too beautiful blue-green ceramic tiles decorate the walls, and there are 
scenes of Zoser running in the Heb-Sed Festival, but the chamber is 
really too small for a burial. Some have suggested that Zoser had two 
tombs, one northern, one southern, to emphasize that he was king of 
both Upper and Lower Egypt. The southern one was a cenotaph, a 
false burial chamber. 

Sneferu: King of the Pyramids 

Meidum, Egypt, 2613 b.c. 

I mhotep’s great creation, the Step Pyramid of Saqqara, sparked a 
frenzy of construction in Egypt, and a nation of farmers became 
a nation of builders. It is even possible that Imhotep went on to 
design a second step pyramid for Zoser’s successor, King Sekhem- 
Khet, whose pyramid was discovered in the 1950s (see Appendix II). 
After building several step pyramids, Egypt would go on to erect even 
greater monuments — and one of the strangest of these is the Meidum 

The pyramid at Meidum sits isolated in the desert about fifty miles 
south of Saqqara. Rarely visited by tourists, it is a crucial step in Egypt’s 
march toward the Great Pyramid. As soon as you see the Meidum Pyr- 
amid you know something went wrong. Looking more like a medieval 
fortress than a pyramid, it seems almost sinister. In the 1960s, Kurt 
Mendelssohn, an Oxford University physicist, theorized that the walls 
of the pyramid collapsed during construction because the angle of the 
pyramid was too steep. 13 He believed the mound of sand at its base 
hid the top of the pyramid that came crashing down. However, recent 
excavations of the mound show that the collapse theory is wrong; the 
mound consists primarily of windblown sand. Egyptologists now agree 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

that the reason for the pyramid’s ruinous state was that local villag- 
ers used it as a quarry for stone, stripping it of its fine white limestone 
casing. But there’s still a mystery. The pyramid was never used for the 
pharaoh’s burial, and no one knows why. 

There is a temple next to the pyramid where priests would have 
made offerings for the dead king. On top of the temple are two stelae — 
round-topped stones that served as ancient Egypt’s bulletin boards. If 
you wanted something known, you carved it on a stela and put it where 
everyone could see it. The two stelae at the Meidum Pyramid should 
have the king’s name and titles, but they are totally blank; they were 
never inscribed — a dead giveaway that the king never used the pyra- 
mid. The unfinished burial chamber inside the pyramid offers another 
clue that the pyramid was never used, but within it rests a milestone in 
the history of pyramid building. 

The burial chamber inside the Meidum Pyramid is the first above- 
ground burial in Egypt, a radical break from the underground burial 
chamber concept of the Step Pyramid. The owner of the Meidum Pyr- 
amid was going to be buried in the pyramid, not under it. To be buried 
inside a pyramid, a major engineering problem had to be solved. If the 
burial chamber is inside the pyramid, then the ceiling of the chamber 
must support the hundreds of thousands of tons above it. Constructing 
a room inside a pyramid had never been tried before and the architect 
of the Meidum Pyramid came up with an ingenious solution — a cor- 
belled ceiling. 

With a corbelled ceiling, the walls narrow as they get higher. As you 
build the wall out of stone blocks, each level is placed about six inches 
in from the one beneath it, so it overlaps and looks like an upside-down 
staircase. Thus, when you get to the top, the block spanning the walls 
and forming the ceiling is only a few inches wide. A block only a few 
inches wide is not going to crack under the weight above it, thus the 
problem of how to build an internal room is solved. 

The innovation of a room inside the pyramid was not the only en- 
gineering advance at Meidum; the Meidum Pyramid is also the first 
attempt at a true pyramid. It began as a stepped pyramid, but some 
time near the end of its construction the architect had the idea to fill 
in the steps. We don’t know why the project was abandoned, but there 
must have been a very good reason — a significant percentage of Egypt’s 
economy had been poured into creating the largest building on earth, 

A corbelled ceiling in the Meidum Pyramid made it possible to have a burial chamber inside the 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

yet it was never used. Some think the outer casing blocks were not se- 
curely tied in to the rest of the pyramid and began slipping, but this is 
far from certain. 14 We do know that the pharaoh was never buried in 
the unfinished burial chamber, and by a stroke of good luck, we know 
who this pharaoh was. 

During the 18th Dynasty — about a thousand years after the Meidum 
Pyramid was abandoned — a scribe named Akheperkare-seneb visited 
the abandoned pyramid. By this time, the era of pyramid building was 
long over and no doubt he walked around wondering at its construction. 
He would have strolled down to the Valley Temple, about a quarter of 
a mile from the pyramid. It was probably intended that the deceased 
pharaoh be mummified inside the temple, but it too was never used. 
Akheperkare-seneb walked up the causeway connecting the Valley 
Temple with the pyramid and came to the mortuary chapel next to the 
pyramid, where priests would have made the daily offerings that en- 
sured continued existence for the soul of their king. He paused in this 
chapel as sunlight streamed in. He took his scribe’s palette, dipped his 
reed brush into a bit of water, touched it to his block of black ink and 
wrote on the wall: “On the twelfth day of the fourth month of summer, 
in the 41st year of King Tuthmosis III, the scribe Akheperkare-seneb, 
son of Ammenmesu, came to see the beautiful temple of King Sneferu. 
He found it as though heaven were in it, and the sun rising in it.” 
Then he added: “May heaven rain with fresh myrrh, may it drip with 
incense upon the roof of the temple of King Sneferu.” Because of this 
ancient graffito, we know that the Meidum Pyramid was built by King 
Sneferu, but this was not his only pyramid. 

Abandoning the Meidum Pyramid left Sneferu without a burial 
place, so a second pyramid had to be constructed. It is even possible that 
while the Meidum Pyramid was under construction, Sneferu’s second 
pyramid was also being built. After all, Zoser had two burials, the Step 
Pyramid and his “southern burial,” so Sneferu may have always in- 
tended to have two pyramids. The second one, at Dashur, about thirty 
miles north of Meidum, is the first pyramid designed from the begin- 
ning to be a true pyramid, one with smooth sides. 

There is a popular tendency to credit the Egyptians with more 
knowledge than they actually had. Even the Greek philosopher Plato 
believed that the legendary mathematicians of his past such as Thales of 
Miletus and Pythagoras had studied in Egypt. 15 The truth is, the Egyp- 

Sneferu: King of the Pyramids 


tians only had very basic mathematical skills and probably didn’t teach 
the Greeks anything . 16 It doesn’t take higher mathematics to build a 
pyramid, but it does take manpower and almost superhuman precision, 
which we will see when we examine the construction of the Great 
Pyramid. Ancient architects had no way to calculate load-bearing ca- 
pacities of various materials, so they worked by trial and error. Keep 
piling blocks on top of a granite beam until it cracks; then you know 
what it can support. This kind of construction can lead to disaster, and 
in the history of pyramid construction no disaster stands out more than 
Sneferu’s second pyramid, the Bent Pyramid of Dashur. 

Pyramids may all look alike, but each one is unique, with each ar- 
chitect trying to outdo the other. The Bent Pyramid is the first pyr- 
amid to have two entrances and two burial chambers — it’s the new, 
improved, deluxe model. When they were built, the burial chambers 
were the most spectacular interior spaces on earth. The corbelling used 
so tentatively in Sneferu’s pyramid at Meidum is perfected at Dashur, 
where the Bent Pyramid stands. All four sides of the rooms are stepped 
inward so that the entire room gradually narrows toward the top, yield- 
ing a dizzying view to the ceiling fifty-five feet above the floor. One of 
the two burial chambers was undoubtedly intended for Sneferu and the 
other was probably for his Great Wife, Queen Hetepheres, but neither 
was ever buried inside. Incredibly, this pyramid was also abandoned, 
but in this case we know why. 

About two-thirds up the face of the pyramid the angle of incline 
bends, giving the pyramid its distinctive shape and name. The bend is 
the result of one of the costliest engineering disasters ever. Pyramids are 

The corbelling inside the 
Bent Pyramid soars upward 
for fifty-five feet on all four 
sides. In the center is the 
ladder build by the Antiqui- 
ties Service. 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

never constructed on sand; sand shifts, blocks move, and the pyramid 
would collapse. Pyramids are built on bedrock, and the Bent Pyramid 
is no exception. However, one corner of the pyramid rested on a layer 
of gravel, making that one corner unstable. During the early stages of 
construction there were no problems, but as the pyramid grew taller 
and its mass increased, the weight from the blocks on the corner resting 
on gravel caused those blocks to shift. This movement was transmitted 
inside the pyramid and the walls of the upper burial chamber cracked 
and started moving inward. In a desperate attempt to stop the room 
from imploding, the ancient engineers wedged huge fifty-foot cedar 
of Lebanon logs between opposite walls to keep them from collaps- 
ing. This stabilized the pyramid, but clearly it was no longer suitable 
for Sneferu’s burial. It could, however, serve as his symbolic burial, 
one of the two burials that pharaohs now had, one for Upper and one 
for Lower Egypt. The pyramid was completed as quickly and inex- 
pensively as possible, and this is why its angle was changed. Having a 
gentler slope at the top greatly reduced the number of blocks in the top 
third of the pyramid and also reduced the weight on the fragile burial 
chamber. I can just imagine the discussion between the architects when 
the burial chamber cracked: “You tell the pharaoh.” “No, you tell the 
pharaoh.” Sneferu was now in a very difficult position. He had built the 
two largest buildings on earth and neither was suitable for his burial. 
Time was running out for the aging pharaoh. 

Sneferu did not give up on pyramids. With two disasters behind 
him, he built his third pyramid at Dashur, just a mile from the unused 
Bent Pyramid. Because it gleams red in the sunlight, it is known as the 
Red Pyramid. There are clear indications that Sneferu wasn’t taking 
any chances with this one; it had to succeed. Unlike all the earlier pyr- 
amids, it has a gentle 42-degree slope compared with 53 for the Bent 
and Meidum Pyramids. The gentle slope accomplished two things: 
first, it reduced the number of stones needed to build the pyramid. 
Sneferu was getting old and wanted to reduce building time. Second, a 
gentler slope reduced the chances of more construction disasters. In the 
Red Pyramid, there are no indications of construction problems, and 
Sneferu was undoubtedly laid to rest inside it, the first true pyramid in 

Sneferu’s three pyramids — Meidum, the Bent, and the Red — con- 
stitute the most intense building spurt in history. Under one pharaoh, 

Sneferu: King of the Pyramids 


Egypt built the three largest buildings on earth, developed the first true 
pyramid, and invented the corbelled ceiling so burials could be above 
ground, high up in the pyramid. In television programs and popular 
books about pyramids, the focus is almost always on King Khufu, the 
builder of the Great Pyramid at Giza. However, it is really Khufu’s 
father, Sneferu, who taught Egypt how to build pyramids. A thousand 
years after Sneferu’s death, when someone did something impressive, 
he would say, “Not since the time of Sneferu has its like been done.” 

In ancient Egypt, the profession of architect was often handed down 
from father to son. The architects of the largest pyramids ever built — 
the Great Pyramid and the pyramid of King Kephren — were uncle and 
nephew. When boys see their fathers and uncles building great things, 
they want to also. So it was with Jean-Pierre and his father. 

The Red Pyramid was the third pyramid built by King Sneferu. 

An Architect Is Born 

I n the years immediately following World War I, France experi- 
enced a strange but understandable birth pattern. Families were 
having only one child. The country had been devastated by the 
war, times were hard, and everyone’s energies were directed toward 
rebuilding the country. The phenomenon affected French society for 
generations. With the typical nuclear family of father, mother, and only 
child, much of the following generation would grow up with no uncles, 
aunts, or cousins. These “only children” born after World War I would 
come of age during World War II and bear much of the brunt of that 
war. Jean-Pierre’s father was one of them. 

Rushed through engineering school so he could help the war effort 
by building runways for the air force, Henri Houdin gained a lot of ex- 
perience very fast. The same year he was graduated from the Ecole des 
Arts et Metiers, Renee Mesana was graduating as a physician and setting 
up her practice near Paris. With many male physicians away at war, her 
services were urgently needed for the civilian population and she too was 
gaining experience rapidly. One of her first house calls just after the war 
was to treat Henri’s sick grandmother, but Henri and Renee never spoke. 
He did, however, notice “the pretty young physician in the convertible.” 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

When the war finally ended there was rejoicing, but much of France 
had again been destroyed by German bombs and had to be rebuilt. If 
you could build a bridge or repair a road, you had a promising future. 
With more than 7,000 bridges in need of rebuilding, young engineers 
were given tremendous responsibilities. Thus, in 1947, twenty-four- 
year-old Henri Houdin was placed in charge of rebuilding the Con- 
flans Bridge outside of Paris. The first of his many successes, the bridge 
was completed on schedule and within budget. Soon he was being 
given other major projects and responsibilities. Although they hadn’t 
yet spoken, Renee’s career was paralleling Henri’s; her practice was 
growing and her skills increasing at a postwar pace. When they met at 
the wedding of a mutual friend, the two young professionals were im- 
mediately attracted to each other; in less than a year they married. As 
they settled into their Paris apartment and planned their family, neither 
could have foreseen that their children would be raised in Africa. 

In 1949 Bernard, their first child, was born, and the following year 
Henri was sent to Ivory Coast to evaluate building projects. Ivory Coast 
was a French protectorate and with the war behind her, France had the 
resources to develop her colonies. Henri discovered that Ivory Coast 
had such enormous infrastructure needs that an entire company had to 
be established for all the building. Soon, Henri, Renee, and baby Ber- 
nard were settled in Abidjan. 

In 1951 Jean-Pierre was born, and now the family was complete. 
When she wasn’t taking care of the two boys, Renee served as com- 
pany physician, treating sick or injured workers and anyone else need- 
ing a doctor’s services. Henri was constantly building — roads, dams, 
water towers, schools — but because of his experience in France, bridges 
became his specialty. France still had plenty of war surplus and several 
of the bridges in Ivory Coast were built from Mulberry bridges con- 
structed for the D-Day invasion at Normandy. Henri’s biggest project 
was the huge Houphouet Boigny Bridge linking two districts of the 
capital, Abidjan, by spanning a lagoon. 

Before the bridge could be built, a study had to be completed to 
make sure that the underwater soil on which the piers would rest could 
support a bridge. The government sent Jean Kerisel, a ground specialist, 
to perform the necessary tests. Soon after his arrival Kerisel fell ill and 
was eager to return to France, but Jean-Pierre ’s physician mother cured 
him and he remained in Ivory Coast to complete his study. A bond 

Henri and Renee Houdin in Africa in the early 1950s. 

formed between engineer Henri and the ground specialist. Perhaps it 
was the fact that Henri’s wife had cured Kerisel, perhaps it was the 
shared difficulties of building the bridge, but the two men remained 
friends for life. Nearly half a century after their first project together, 
both were trying to figure out how the Great Pyramid was built. 

The bridge they built was an engineering marvel of its day, with a 
highway on top and two concrete tunnels acting as beams beneath the 
highway through which trains ran. Sections of the concrete tunnels 
were poured on the ground and then lifted into place by huge cranes 
on barges. During the three years it took to build, Bernard and Jean- 
Pierre frequently accompanied their father to watch the construction. 
When it was inaugurated in March of 1958 fabulous fireworks lit up 
the night sky, something the brothers would remember for the rest of 
their lives. 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

Bernard enjoyed visiting work sites with his father, but it was Jean- 
Pierre who wanted to know how everything worked. He grew up 
playing among bulldozers, cranes, Dumpsters, and trucks, all painted 
bright orange because in Ivory Coast the soil is reddish orange laterite 
and the dust won’t show on orange-colored machinery. 

Growing up in Ivory Coast in the 1950s was heaven for the two 
boys. They attended a neighborhood school and easily made friends 
with both the local boys and the children of the construction com- 
pany’s employees. There were soccer, swimming pools, and on week- 
ends Henri would often fill the big Chevrolet Bel Air station wagon 
with the family and the boys’ friends and drive to the beach or to a 
construction site for a picnic. Even illness could be turned into an 
adventure. An epidemic of whooping cough hit Ivory Coast, and 
both boys and two of the neighbor’s children came down with it. In 
the 1950s a cutting-edge cure for the pulmonary complications of 
whooping cough involved decompressing the lungs on a high-alti- 
tude flight. Jean-Pierre’s physician mother bundled the four children 
up and took them on a round-trip ride on a Douglas DC— 3. All the 
patients survived. It was a wonderful, unforgettable childhood, but 
time was approaching for the brothers’ higher education and Africa 
had to be left behind. 

The Houdins returned to Paris and bought an apartment near the 
Arc de Triomphe, and both boys attended the Lycee Carnot, one of 
the most prestigious schools in France. Jean-Pierre struggled to get his 
baccalaureate, starting in mathematics but ending with a degree in phi- 
losophy. While the boys were in school, Henri was flying all over the 
world building bridges and roads in Ivory Coast, Tahiti, New Caledo- 
nia, Lebanon, and Greece. Renee returned to school to study industrial 
medicine. In the 1960s, way ahead of her time, she was one of the first 
experts to alert the public to the dangers of asbestos. 

In 1970, Jean-Pierre entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts to begin six 
years of architectural studies. Finally life started in earnest. Working 
part-time in an architectural firm drawing plans and doing calculations, 
he learned the practical aspects of building while studying architectural 
design at school. After an undistinguished career at the Lycee, Beaux- 
Arts was a piece of cake. Every architecture student had to design a 
project in his last year and Jean-Pierre’s avant-garde solar house was a 
hit with his professors. 

An Architect Is Born 


Soon after graduation, Jean-Pierre took his plans for the solar house 
and boarded a DC— 10 for Ivory Coast, intending to convince the gov- 
ernment to go solar. They would have none of it, so he returned home 
and joined his father’s construction business as an architect in residence. 
In 1987 the housing market declined, and Henri decided to close the 
company and retire. Jean-Pierre opened a private practice and contin- 
ued to design condos and offices for clients, gaining experience in all 
aspects of construction. In the meantime Jean-Pierre also gained a wife, 
Michelle, a beautiful artist deeply involved in the Paris art community. 

Jean-Pierre was doing well enough in his new architectural prac- 
tice that he, Michelle, and an engineer friend named Laurent bought 
the bakery across the street from their apartment, and in 1986 opened 
a cafe called Les Enfants Gates (The Rotten Kids), that Jean-Pierre 
and Laurent designed as a 1920s salon. It was a great success and soon 
became a meeting place for artists, actors, and writers. The three 
introduced the idea of Sunday brunch to Paris and soon Americans 
were gathering there on weekends. The cafe was such a success that 
Michelle was able to open Gallery 43 in the limestone basement be- 
neath the cafe. Young artists were invited to show their art free, with 
a preview offered in the cafe above. Les Enfants Gates launched many 
young artists’ careers. 

For nearly a decade, the cafe and gallery were a great success, but 
after ten years it was becoming old hat. Michelle feared they were 
“doing the routine.” They had to move on, but to where and to what? 
Jean-Pierre ’s architectural practice had been good to them and the 
cafe was doing so well financially that they were able to sell it for 
enough money to take time off and search for something new. In the 
fall of 1996, the couple rented their apartment and left for New York 
in search of an idea. They were secure enough that they made their 
escape in style, aboard the Concorde. After hors d’oeuvres and cham- 
pagne at the Concorde departure lounge with fellow passenger Calvin 
Klein and other celebrities, the adventurers boarded the plane at 11:00 
a.m. and took off with a big push forcing them back in their seats like 
jet fighter pilots. Soon after leaving the coast of Brittany behind, the 
Concorde passed the speed of sound and kept climbing. After an hour 
the Machmeter in the front of the plane indicated Mach 2, twice the 
speed of sound, and the plane leveled off at 54,000 feet. Everything 
was silent and from the Concorde’s small windows they could detect 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

the earth’s curvature. After a fabulous lunch, an announcement came 
through the cabin. They were beginning their descent into JFK and 
would be landing in twenty minutes, at 8:30 a.m. local time — two 
and a half hours earlier than they had left Paris. They had traveled 
faster than the sun. 

Architect Adrift 

New York, 1996 

W hen Jean-Pierre and Michelle landed at Kennedy Airport 
they had no agenda, but enough money to hold out for a 
year. Comfortable in the art scene, they rented a friend’s 
apartment in Greenwich Village. At first Jean-Pierre spent his days 
walking the city, taking in the architecture and energy. In the mid- 
1990s, New York was where things were happening, and although 
Jean-Pierre didn’t know what was in store for him, he sensed he would 
find it here. On one of his wanderings he found himself looking into a 
window of a large computer store on Fifth Avenue. Fascinated, he went 
inside to look and left with a heavy computer in his arms. 

The Internet was growing fast and Jean-Pierre realized this world 
might be for him — a computer, the Internet, no office, perhaps he could 
work anywhere. Enough of concrete and steel buildings, the computer 
was his road to a new freedom. At the same time that the Internet was 
growing, architecture was changing. Drawings and plans were no longer 
produced by hand. Now everything was being designed on computers. 
Fascinated with the new graphics programs available to architects, Jean- 
Pierre spent month after month learning, experimenting, seeing what 
could be done, and wondering how he could use these new skills. He 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

could design Web sites. While Jean-Pierre improved his computer skills, 
Michelle visited an average of twenty art galleries a week, taking in the 
New York art scene. She too was looking for a new direction and was 
interested in seeing how the new technologies were affecting art. 

After several months in New York, they were ready to see Amer- 
ica. They drove a rented car to Washington, D.C., to see the nation’s 
capital, and then flew to Las Vegas. From there they drove across the 
American west — Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico — and it was there 
that Jean-Pierre became the Man in Black. It wasn’t a fashion state- 
ment; it was a laundering decision. Michelle always wore black. As they 
traveled across the country they used Laundromats — it was easier if the 
wash was all one color. 

In Colorado they visited Hoover Dam, one of the most massive con- 
struction projects in modern times. A more than 600-foot-thick base 
supports 700-foot walls. Built during the Depression, 3.3 million cubic 
meters of concrete — a mass greater than the Great Pyramid — were 
poured by 5,000 workers in less than five years. A modern engineering 
marvel, it had many similarities to the Great Pyramid, but Jean-Pierre 
wouldn’t know that for several years. They visited San Francisco and 
Los Angeles, and then they were finally ready to return home. Almost 
exactly one year after they had departed on the Concorde, they flew 
back to Paris. 

In October the tenant who had rented their apartment moved out, 
so they moved back into their wonderful apartment, a duplex in a sev- 
enteenth-century landmarked building in the Marais district of Paris. 
They were back in familiar surroundings, but not in the old routine. 
The American adventure had depleted their bank account, so it was 
time to go back to work. With his new computer graphics skills, Jean- 
Pierre began designing Web sites for architects with his engineer friend 
Laurent, who was also reinventing himself. Business was good; every- 
one wanted a Web site. Jean-Pierre had his freedom; he could go any- 
where with his computer and earn a living. 

By mid— 1998 he and Michelle decided to cut the cord even further. 
They sold their apartment and began a life on the road, from apartment 
to apartment, no permanent address, no fixed duties. They would “live 
full time.” The urgency for life came from Michelle. Both her parents 
had died early, and on the day after her mother’s death in 1992, she 

Architect Adrift 


turned to Jean-Pierre and said, “I would like to drink a little Cham- 
pagne every evening.” It is a ritual they have kept since that day. 

Life was good. The idea Jean-Pierre was looking for had still not 
come to him. When it did, it would be thanks to two builders: his 
father and an ancient Egyptian architect. 

A Troubled Bridge? 

Abidjan, Ivory Coast, 1997 

A fter Jean-Pierre’s failed attempt to sell solar houses to the 
government of Ivory Coast, he never returned. His brother 
Bernard, however, maintained connections, and has dual 
Ivory Coast and French citizenship. On a trip to Abidjan he heard 
rumors that the bridge his father built was in danger of collapsing — 
the piers were weakening. He quickly informed his father and Henri 
notified the French authorities, as France was still responsible for 
the bridge. A committee to study the problem was established. Jean 
Kerisel, the engineer cured by Jean-Pierre’s mother, was responsible 
for the piers and was placed on the committee, as was Henri Houdin. 
After forty years, the two were working together again. Their meet- 
ings led President Chirac to allocate funds to inspect and monitor 
the bridge. During this time in 1997, Kerisel told Henri of his new 

In the 1980s, Cairo was building its new underground metro system 
and Kerisel was on the team doing the soil survey. While in Cairo he 
made several trips to Giza to visit the Great Pyramid and became fas- 
cinated with the engineering problems that had to be solved to build 
such a monument. By now he was somewhat of an expert on pyramid 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

building. In late 1998, Jean Kerisel was interviewed for a television 
documentary about pyramids and told Henri Houdin to watch for it. 

The show, The Mystery of the Pyramids, presented by Francois de 
Closets, a well-known French television personality, was quite good. 
It covered the usual ground, discussing the possibility of the straight 
ramp and its problems and then the idea of a ramp corkscrewing up the 
outside of the Pyramid. Henri was intrigued and listened attentively 
as Egyptologists presented their theories of how the Great Pyramid 
was built. Ninety-year-old Jean-Fran^ois Lauer, the elder statesman of 
pyramid experts, told his theory; right next to Lauer sat Henri’s old 
friend Jean Kerisel. But Henri knew their theories were wrong. They 
were approaching the solution from the wrong side — the outside! Ev- 
eryone seemed to think the pyramid is basically a huge sugar cube- 
type construction. Figure out a way to pile blocks up higher and higher 
and then just leave some out to form the chambers inside. But Henri’s 
engineer’s brain was kicking in; he knew it didn’t work that way. You 
had to think about the interior first. Visualize the building of the inte- 
rior chambers — the King’s Chamber, the Queen’s Chamber, the Grand 
Gallery. What construction techniques would be needed? What kinds 
of stone? How big would the stones be? Answers to questions like these 
determine how to build the outside of the pyramid. Excited by his 
idea, he called his architect son and blurted out, “The pyramids were 
not built from the outside, but from the inside.” 

Hemienu Plans the 
Great Pyramid 

Giza, Egypt, 2589 b.c. (Year i in the reign of Khufu) 

I t was a momentous day when Sneferu, king of Upper and Lower 
Egypt, the Great God, died sometime around 2590 b.c., but the 
date of his death and the details of the funeral of one of Egypt’s 
greatest pharaohs went unrecorded. This seems incredible to us, living 
in a society that wants every possible detail of Princess Diana’s death 
and is still debating how JFK died, but things were different in ancient 
Egypt. Death was a defeat and Egyptian scribes only recorded victories. 
History was not intended to record objective facts; it was to present the 
glories of a nation for others to see and wonder at. This leaves Egyp- 
tologists with the task of sifting through fragments of information to 
piece together the details of a pharaoh’s death. 

For the reign of Sneferu, one of the most important fragments is the 
Palermo Stone, a chunk of black diorite in the Regional Museum of 
Archeology in Sicily. Originally the stone was more than six feet long, 
and inscribed on its polished surface were the names and reigns of more 
than 200 kings of Egypt. The fragment in Palermo is only thirteen 
inches wide and ten inches long, but it lists the earliest pharaohs, in- 
cluding Sneferu. It recounts the major events during the various kings’ 
reigns and from it we learn that Sneferu sent a trading expedition to 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

Lebanon to obtain cedar for building boats and the doors of the great 
temples of Egypt. It must have been a successful mission; forty ships 
laden with huge logs returned home to Egypt. Fragments like the Pal- 
ermo Stone are the bits and pieces from which Egyptologists recon- 
struct ancient lives, but they don’t give us the exact date of a pharaoh’s 
death. There are two reasons for this. As we noted before, the Egyp- 
tians viewed death as a defeat, but they also had a unique calendar. 

The Egyptians didn’t number their years consecutively. Our year 
2008 will be followed by 2009, but in ancient Egypt when a new king 
like Sneferu ascended the throne, the calendar began anew with: “Day 
1, Year 1 in the reign of Sneferu.” The only reason we know Sneferu 
died in 2590 b.c. is that a few events such as total solar eclipses men- 
tioned in ancient Egyptian records can be dated accurately in terms 
of our calendar. Let’s say that an ancient Egyptian papyrus written 
during the reign of Ramses the Great mentions that a solar eclipse took 
place. Using our calendar, astronomers calculate exactly when the solar 
eclipse took place and then Egyptologists count backward to get dates 
for reigns of the earlier kings. Based on evidence like this, our best bet 
for Sneferu’s death is 2590 b.c. 

We can be sure, however, that when Sneferu died, all of Egypt 
mourned. Under his rule Egypt became an international power, sending 
trading expeditions to Lebanon for cedar and to the Sinai for turquoise 
and copper. Sneferu ushered in the era of the great pyramids, but there 
is another reason to believe Egypt mourned his passing. It is recorded on 
the Westcar Papyrus, located in the Egyptian Museum in Berlin. 

Before the Egyptians invented papyrus, writing was done on clay 
tablets. After being inscribed, the damp clay tablets were baked in a 
kiln to be preserved. It was an expensive and tedious process to form 
a tablet out of clay, inscribe it with a stylus, and then bake it. Send- 
ing letters abroad was not easy; great care had to be taken that the 
tablets didn’t crumble and break. The Mesopotamians even had spe- 
cial envelopes, also baked, to protect them. The invention of papyrus 
(from which we get our word “paper”) created a literary boom. All 
of a sudden, writing was easy. Sheets of paper made from strips of the 
papyrus plant were glued together in long rolls that could be written 
on with a brush. No more baking of tablets, no problem transporting 
the writings — the publishing industry took off. The Egyptians wrote 
everything on papyrus, religious texts, battle accounts, magical spells, 

Hemienu Plans the Great Pyramid 


even fiction. The Westcar Papyrus, named after its owner, contains a 
series of magical stories told by Sneferu’s grandson, Prince Bauefre, the 
Stephen King of ancient Egypt . 17 

One of the stories tells us that Sneferu was walking through the 
palace one day, feeling bored, with a “sickness of the heart.” He called 
his palace magician, Djadja-em-ankh, and asked what he should do. 
The magician suggested His Majesty take a boat out on his pleasure 
lake and that he invite the beautiful young ladies of the palace to do 
the rowing. Sneferu liked the idea and improved on it. He commanded 
that twenty fishnet dresses be brought for the young ladies to wear as 
they rowed. The plan worked. “The heart of his majesty was happy 
at the sight of their rowing.” However, suddenly everything stopped. 
One of the lovely rowers was upset, having dropped overboard a tur- 
quoise fish amulet that she was wearing. Sneferu offered to replace it; 
he wanted the rowing to continue, but the young maiden cried that she 
wanted only her lost amulet, not another. 

Sneferu, once again, summoned the ingenious Djadja-em-ankh. The 
magician caused the waters of the lake to part, retrieved the amulet, 
and returned it to the young lady, and the rowing continued. Pretty 
impressive stuff from a palace magician! Remember, this is all happen- 
ing a thousand years before Moses parted the Red Sea. But even as an- 
cient Egyptian magical tales go, there is something extremely unusual 
about the story. It gives us insight into the personality of a pharaoh. 
Think about it. Sneferu is king of Egypt, a god on earth, but a palace 
handmaiden is comfortable enough in his presence to refuse his offer 
to replace the amulet. And to Sneferu’s credit he doesn’t respond with 
“Off with her head.” He’s concerned, understanding. He’s a pharaoh 
we are supposed to like. It’s hard for us to grasp how long ago Sneferu 
lived, but think about it this way: this story gives us the earliest anec- 
dote ever about an historical character. Sneferu is the first individual in 

Soon after Sneferu’s death, his body was ferried across the Nile, 
from the east bank to the west. The west was associated with death be- 
cause the Egyptian religion was primarily a solar cult and they believed 
that the sun god, Re, died in the west at the end of every day and was 
reborn at dawn in the east. Cemeteries were on the west bank, and 
this is where embalmers set up their workshops, far from the living. 
Sneferu’s body was ferried across the Nile to the royal embalmers in an 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

elegant funerary boat specially constructed for the king’s last voyage. 
This huge 150-foot ship had a special cabin on the deck to shelter the 
king’s body. We know what Sneferu’s funerary boat looked like because 
of the sharp eyes of an Egyptian Antiquities Service official. 

I n 1954 the Egyptian Antiquities Service was clearing debris near the 
Great Pyramid of Khufu on the Giza Plateau when a young archae- 
ologist, Kamal el-Mallakh, noticed that the ancient wall enclosing the 
Great Pyramid was not exactly symmetrical — the wall on the south 
side was fifteen feet closer to the base of the Pyramid than the walls 
on the other sides. Careful inspection revealed that the south wall had 
been built asymmetrically to conceal something beneath it. The wall 
was taken down, revealing forty-one massive limestone blocks cover- 
ing a pit cut into the bedrock. 

After the limestone blocks were removed, the excavators discovered 
a 144-foot-long boat that had been disassembled and carefully placed in 
the pit. The 1,224 pieces of wood had been stacked in thirteen layers 
and, amazingly, the wood was so well preserved that an attempt could 
be made to reconstruct the boat. Although it resembled a giant boat 
model kit, the pieces did not come with an instruction booklet. It 
took twenty years of trial and error to reconstruct it. In the process, a 
great deal was learned about how wooden boats were built in ancient 
Egypt. 18 

The Boat Beneath the Pyramid, as it became known, wasn’t con- 
structed like a modern boat. Modern boats are built from the inside 
out. A framing of ribs is nailed together and then the boat’s hull — the 
outside planking — is nailed to the ribs. 19 Ancient Egyptian boat build- 
ers did the opposite. They built a boat from the outside in and never 
used ribs! The hull of Khufu ’s boat, found next to the Great Pyramid, 
is made of huge cedar planks, some seventy feet long and six inches 
thick. No trees growing in Lebanon today are tall enough to provide 
such boards. These planks were carved to create the curve of the boat. 
(Modern boat builders steam and bend the planks to get a curve.) You 
can still see the marks on the planks made by the boat builders’ copper 
chisels as they shaped the boards. The planks were not nailed together 
as in later boat building, but were tied together with strong rope made 
from hemp. Once the hull was formed by these tied planks, wood struts 

The Cheops boat may have been intended to ferry the dead king from the realm of the living to 
the realm of the dead. 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

were fitted inside the hull to give the boat structural strength. This 
kind of boat, held together entirely by rope, is called a sewn boat. 

The reassembly led to another mystery. No one could figure out 
how the boat had been used. It didn’t have a mast or sails, so it couldn’t 
have sailed. Ten giant oars, fifteen feet long, were found with the boat, 
but there were no oarlocks, nor was it clear where the rowers could 
have stood on the deck. How was the boat propelled if it didn’t sail and 
wasn’t rowed? Another puzzle was the cabin on the boat’s deck. It is to- 
tally enclosed, with no windows for ventilation or light. This dark and 
airless cabin provides a clue to the boat’s actual function. 

Let’s start with the problem of how the boat moved. If it wasn’t self- 
propelled, it could have been towed by other boats. We know from 
tomb paintings that some ceremonial boats were pulled by other boats 
that had sails and usable oars. But for what ceremony was Khufu’s boat 
used? This is where the airless cabin comes in. The Khufu boat was 
used only once, for the pharaoh’s funeral. We can easily imagine the 
body of the pharaoh inside the dark, airless cabin, shielded from the 
mourners who lined the banks of the Nile. This boat was found next to 
Khufu’s pyramid and was his, but Sneferu would undoubtedly have had 
a boat similar to the Giza boat to transport his body to the embalmers’ 
workshop in the west. 

A s Egypt mourned for Sneferu, a skilled team of embalmers worked 
in seclusion for seventy days to prepare his body for its final jour- 
ney to the next world. They began by making a three-and-a-half-inch 
incision on the left side of the abdomen through which they would 
remove the internal organs. These professionals knew anatomy. They 
understood that the internal organs contained water that would cause 
the pharaoh’s body to decay; in order for the pharaoh’s body to last for 
eternity, all moisture had to be removed. Beginning with the spleen, 
the embalmers worked carefully, removing the intestines, stomach, and 
liver. Working upward, they cut through the diaphragm, entering the 
thoracic cavity, carefully removing the lungs without disturbing the 
heart. Sneferu would need his heart to remember the magical spells 
he had to recite in order to be resurrected. The Egyptians believed 
you thought with your heart, which was perfectly reasonable. When 
you get excited, it's your heart that beats quickly, not your brain. This 

Hemienu Plans the Great Pyramid 


is why on Valentine’s Day we send little chocolate hearts, though we 
should be sending little chocolate brains. 

Once the internal organs were removed, the embalmers began the 
most difficult of all the surgical procedures, the removal of the brain. 
They pushed a copper hook resembling a straightened metal coat hanger 
up through the nasal passage. Breaking a thin bone behind the eyes, the 
instrument entered the cranial cavity. The copper hook was rotated 
repeatedly until the brain was liquefied. The pharaoh’s body was then 
held with the head downward and feet toward the ceiling so the brain 
could run out through the nose. With the surgical procedures com- 
pleted, the embalmers moved to the next stage of mummification — 
dehydration of the body. 

To remove the remaining bodily fluids, the embalmers covered 
Sneferu’s body with 400 pounds of natron, a naturally occurring mix- 
ture of baking soda and salt. After thirty-five days, the body was fully 
dehydrated by the white powder that preserved it, and Sneferu was 
wrapped in hundreds of yards of pure white linen to protect his body. 
As the ancient morticians performed their tasks, priests chanted hymns 
to ensure Sneferu’s resurrection and entry into the next world. After 
seventy days, the period prescribed by the Egyptian religion, Sneferu’s 
mummified body was placed in his pyramid at Dashur. 

B y the time Sneferu’s body was being ferried across the Nile to the 
west, the Egyptian calendar had already been reset to Day 1, Year 
1 of his son Khufu’s reign. And while the embalmers were mummify- 
ing Sneferu’s body, a spot for his son’s pyramid was being selected. We 
know the man who was in charge of the selection — Hemienu, Khufu’s 

We know quite a lot about Hemienu because the walls of his huge 
tomb on the Giza Plateau are inscribed with his biography. Hemienu 
was Sneferu’s son — “The king’s son of his own body” and thus Khufu’s 
brother, or at least his half-brother, as Sneferu had several wives. It is not 
surprising that Hemienu became an architect. As a young prince grow- 
ing up in the royal household, he probably visited his father’s pyramids 
as they were being constructed at Meidum and Dashur. He also would 
have seen the tremendous power wielded by his father’s architect. 

We call Hemienu an architect but this is not quite accurate. “Archi- 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

tect” is a Roman word that means arch builder. Arches were so cen- 
tral to Roman building that they defined the profession. In the ancient 
world, there was no clear distinction between architects, the people 
who designed buildings, and engineers, the people concerned with the 
technical aspects of those buildings. Hemienu’s actual title was Over- 
seer of the King’s Works. That meant he was responsible for design 
but also oversaw the construction of all pyramids, temples, and pal- 
aces throughout Egypt. He, of course, had a cadre of other overseers 
of works under him and under them were master stonemasons, road 
builders, and transport experts. Not only do we know Hemienu’s titles 

and responsibilities, but we know 
what he looked like. A larger- 
than-life-size statue in Germa- 
ny’s Hildesheim Museum shows 
Hemienu in middle age, bald 
and with rolls of fat around his 
waist, a sign of prosperity. It is 
not an accident of history that 
Hemienu’s name has been pre- 
served for us; architects were im- 
portant people in ancient Egypt. 

In 332 b.c., at the end of 
her 3,000-year history, Egypt 
was conquered by Alexan- 
der the Great, and for the next 
three centuries was ruled by 
Greek pharaohs. The last Greek 
to rule Egypt was the famous 
Cleopatra VII. During this 
Greek period of domination, 
Manetho, an Egyptian priest 
who spoke Greek as well as his 
native tongue, decided to write 
a history of Egypt, in Greek, so that the rulers would know something 
about Egypt’s marvelous past. He called his history Agyptiaca — Egypt — 
and it is centered round the deeds of the pharaohs. 20 Manetho was the 
first to organize the Egyptian kings into dynasties, a division still used 
by Egyptologists today. By the time Manetho was writing his history, 

Hemienu, architect of the Great Pyramid, was shown 
middle-aged, with rolls of fat — a sign of prosperity. 

Hemienu Plans the Great Pyramid 


Hemienu had been dead for more than 2,000 years, but his achieve- 
ments and those of other architects were not forgotten. In the rare in- 
stances when Manetho mentions a nonroyal name, it is almost always 
an architect. 

As architect of the Great Pyramid, Hemienu ’s first task would have 
been to select the building site. Religion required that it be on the west 
bank of the Nile. Osiris, God of the Dead, was Lord of the West and 
when anyone died he was called a westerner. Hemienu knew that his 
brother’s pyramid must be in the west, where all the other pyramids 
were. Religion was one consideration when selecting the site; politics 
was another. Memphis, the ancient capital of Egypt, was in the north, 
so it is logical that the Pyramid would be in the north, near the seat of 
power. Memphis was situated just south of Egypt’s delta, a lush marsh- 
land teeming with fish and fowl that fanned out all the way to the 
Mediterranean. A major source of Egypt’s protein, the delta was also a 
favorite hunting spot for the elite. 

For many foreigners, Memphis was Egypt — there was no need to 
venture south. They would enter Egypt through the delta and unload 
trade goods — timber, oil, wine, copper ingots — at the docks in Mem- 
phis. The harbor was constantly bustling with shiploads of cedar logs, 
exotic dyes, and Mediterranean wares of all kinds. But Memphis wasn’t 
just an economic hub; it was the seat of government and a thriving re- 
ligious center. The pharaoh had a palace at Memphis. Administrative 
buildings of mud brick with hundreds of small rooms for scribes and 
officials stretched out along the Nile. Here men recorded the amount 
of grain produced throughout Egypt, taxes, and the pharaoh’s generous 
donations to the temples. This was the place where every bright Egyp- 
tian wanted to work. If you were a student in a village school in the 
south, “making it” meant getting a job as a local scribe, being noticed 
by a visiting official, and moving north to Memphis. 

Along with the palaces and official buildings were temples to the 
various gods. This was the capital of Egypt, so all interests had to be 
represented, but Memphis also had its own triad of patron gods: Ptah 
the creator god, Sekhmet his wife, and Nefertum their son. Each god 
had its own large temple alongside smaller temples for Egypt’s other 
gods. It was a glorious gleaming-white city. 21 Memphis’s earliest name, 
The White Wall, referred to the limestone wall that surrounded the 
entire city. 

58 The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

The largest city by far in all of Egypt, Memphis had another distinc- 
tion. It was situated on the west bank of the Nile. Almost every large 
city was on the east, with the west bank being reserved for cemeteries. 
Perhaps Memphis was so old that it was founded before this custom was 
established. We can’t be sure, but being on the west bank put this great 
city in close proximity to Saqqara — the largest cemetery in Egypt. 

From the earliest times, Saqqara was Egypt’s elite burial ground. 
Pharaohs of Dynasty 1 have tombs here and for thousands of years 
kings and royalty continued to be buried there. Saqqara is probably 
the densest archaeological site in the world. Dig anywhere beneath its 
hundreds of acres and you will find an important tomb. But this is not 
where Khufu was going to be buried. Religion and politics dictated 
the general area of the Pyramid; construction concerns determined the 
exact site. 

Two million limestone blocks averaging two and a half tons each 
were used to build the Great Pyramid. Every mile between the quarry 
and the Pyramid would mean extra hours transporting each block, 
adding years to the construction time, so great care had to be taken 
when selecting the site. As soon as a pharaoh died, the next king began 
planning his own tomb. So sometime during 2589 b.c., soon after their 
father died, the architect Hemienu sailed up and down the Nile in the 
area of Memphis looking for a suitable spot for his brother’s Pyramid 
on the west bank of the river where limestone was readily available. 
The ship that carried Hemienu would have been a large stately affair, 
similar in size and construction technique to the funerary barge found 
buried on the Giza Plateau. Hemienu’s had a mast and sails for going 
south with the wind. For the northward portion, going with the cur- 
rent, rowers manned the oars and guided the ship. 

Hemienu traveled with his team of skilled builders. An Overseer of 
the Quarries made sure there was plenty of suitable stone in the area. An 
Overseer of Transport determined if a harbor could be built on the site 
and if canals to the Nile could be easily dug. It must have been incredibly 
exciting as they all stood on the deck of Hemienu’s boat discussing the 
project, weighing the merits of one site over another. They were about to 
begin the largest construction project in the history of the world, and it 
was all for the glory of their pharaoh. Building Khufu’s Pyramid would 
consume all their energy and attention for decades. 

A stroke of engineering genius led Hemienu and his team to select the 

Hemienu Plans the Great Pyramid 


Giza Plateau. He would not build the Pyramid near the limestone quarry; 
he would build it in the quarry. In the time of Hemienu, the Giza Plateau 
was a vast, deserted, gleaming-white outcropping of limestone cover- 
ing more than 100 acres. On the north side it dropped off precipitously 
to the sand below, but on the south side was a gentle slope leading to a 
second, even larger, outcropping of limestone more than three-quarters 
of a mile long and one-quarter-mile wide that could be used as a second 
quarry. By placing Khufu’s Pyramid on the Giza Plateau, Hemienu could 
quarry almost all the stone he needed right on-site. 

As Hemienu and his team stood on the plateau, they could see the 
Step Pyramid ten miles to the south at Saqqara. Then, in the clear 
desert air ten miles past the Step Pyramid, they could make out the 
shapes of the Bent and Red Pyramids. Sneferu had just been laid to rest 
in the Red Pyramid, but the Bent was a reminder to all of them that 
things can go wrong in pyramid building. 

Hemienu had seen the problems that Sneferu, his father, faced when 
constructing his pyramid. Khufu was about forty years old when he 
became king; he didn’t have infinite time for his pyramid to be com- 
pleted and this figured in the design of the Great Pyramid. 

Hemienu decided that there would be three burial chambers, each 
at different heights, in the Great Pyramid. The first, an underground 
burial chamber, could be completed in the first five years of construc- 
tion, and would be used if the pharaoh died in his forties. The second 
burial chamber, inside the Pyramid, would be completed when Khufu 
was in his fifties and would be used if he died then. The third burial 
chamber, high up in the Pyramid, would be finished when Khufu was 
in his early sixties and would be the pharaoh’s final resting place if he 
lived that long. 

The location of these three chambers had been planned from the 
very beginning of the project. Their internal dimensions determined 
the volume of the Pyramid, how high it would be, the width at the 
base, and so on. When tourists look at the Great Pyramid, they often 
think that building a pyramid is merely stacking blocks on top of other 
blocks. Building the Great Pyramid was much more complex than that. 
There were two very different aspects to the Pyramid. There was the 
internal part with its rooms and passages, and there was the surround- 
ing external, solid part. Each aspect required different materials and 
construction techniques. 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

As the team of builders looked out across the plateau, each man 
must have talked about his specialty — about the quality and quantity 
of stone, about where to cut a channel to the Nile, where to build the 
harbor, where to house the workmen, and so on. The most specific 
question they had to answer was exactly where on the plateau to build 
the Pyramid. It was clear that it should be on the east side of the pla- 
teau, the side nearest the river. That would allow materials and sup- 
plies ferried in on transport barges and off-loaded close to the building 
site, again reducing transportation time. This concern narrowed the 
Pyramid’s final position to the eastern part of the Giza Plateau, but 
exactly where on the eastern part? A high elevation on the plateau was 
desirable so the Pyramid could be seen for miles, but Hemienu did not 
select the highest point on the plateau. Why not there, in the place of 
pride? Because Hemienu had a master plan for the plateau. 

The highest point of the plateau is on the south side, where the 
gentle slope leads down to the southern outcropping of limestone that 
was going to be quarried. The slope forms a natural ramp, making it 
easy to transport blocks of stone up onto the plateau. But if Khufu’s 
Pyramid were built at the highest point, right at the top of the slope, 
that would block the slope for future Giza projects using the southern 

The Giza Plateau was large enough for six or seven pyramids, and 
Hemienu intended to create a 4th Dynasty burial ground for the royal 
family. By placing the Pyramid on the northeast corner, he left the 
slope on the south that led from the quarry open so two other large 
pyramids could be built in the future. 

Hemienu thought on a large scale, both in space and time. The years 
ahead would provide many more examples of this genius’s insights and 
skills, from organizing thousands of workers to selecting the perfect 
materials for each part of the Pyramid. Hemienu was a micromanager 
overseeing the largest building project in the history of the world. 

Even before a single block had been quarried, Hemienu calculated 
that it would take twenty years to build the Pyramid. He knew it had 
taken ten years and seven months to build his father’s Red Pyramid at 
Dashur, and that it rose at the rate of thirty feet per year. He knew this 
because he had watched it being built. We know it because of the work 
of the great German Egyptologist Rainer Stadelmann. 

Stadelmann has spent his career studying Egypt’s pyramids, and in 

Hemienu Plans the Great Pyramid 


the 1980s conducted a detailed survey of Sneferu’s pyramids at Dashur. 
During this survey he noticed ancient writing on several blocks of the 
Red Pyramid on different levels. The inscriptions were from the time 
of the Pyramid’s construction and gave the dates when the blocks were 
put in place. During the era of Sneferu, dates were often recorded in 
terms of the annual or biannual nationwide cattle census. Thus one 
block, on the thirteenth course of the Pyramid reads: “Day 14 in the 
second month of summer, in the year of the 15th cattle census.” An- 
other block, just three courses above reads: “30th day of the 3rd month 
of the season of inundation, in the year of the 16th cattle census.” 

Using the dates Stadelmann found inscribed on the blocks, another 
Egyptologist, Rolf Krauss, a specialist in chronology, concluded that 
it took nearly eleven years to build the Red Pyramid. 22 This estimate 
could be off by a year or so. Dates on blocks were usually inscribed at 
the quarry, so it is possible that blocks were stored there for some time 
before being transported to the Pyramid. Still, my bet is that Krauss’s 
estimate is not far off. From the various dates inscribed on the blocks, 
he was also able to calculate that the Pyramid rose at a relatively con- 
stant rate of about thirty feet per year. At first this seems surprising 
because there are so many more blocks in the lower courses than the 
upper, so you might think the lower courses would take much longer to 
build than those higher up. However, it takes much more effort to raise 
a block all the way up to the top than it does to set a block in place on 
the bottom. It took eleven years to build the Red Pyramid, but Khufu’s 
was going to be larger and its interior would be more complicated. 
Hemienu’s calculations would have told him that twenty years was a 
reasonable estimate if nothing went wrong. One thing he was certain 
of, it would take thousands of workers to complete the project in only 
two decades, perhaps as many as 25,000 on the Giza Plateau. 23 

he population of Egypt was only a bit more than a million, so this 

workforce was a significant portion of the country’s able-bodied 
men. At the beginning of the project the scene must have been a bit 
like America during World War II. Recruiters went throughout the 
country looking for healthy patriotic men. Families up and down the 
Nile were contributing husbands and sons for a national cause. Don’t 
think of slaves; Hollywood got that one wrong. These were free men 

The Giza Plateau was large enough 
accommodate three large pyramid 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

willing to work for the glory of their pharaoh. Archaeologists have 
found graffiti written by quarrymen on blocks that are now inside the 
Great Pyramid. These hasty jottings in red ink give us a window into 
what life was like for these men. Lower-level workers were organized 
into work gangs of ten and the names they chose for themselves show 
both pride and joie de vivre. One group was “Khufu Is Pure”; another, 
“May the white crown of Khufu strengthen the sailing.” Many of the 
men who came to Giza had never been out of their villages and had 
traveled great distances to a place they had only heard about. Again 
much like World War II, for many it would be the defining experience 
of their lives. 

For modern Egyptologists, the workers were a mystery — it seemed 
as if all traces of them had vanished. How is this possible? They must 
have had houses, stores, everything a boom town needs. Then in the 
1970s, a young Egyptologist from the University of Chicago began 
searching for the lost workers. Mark Lehner came to Egyptology via a 
strange and mystical route. As a teenager, he became infatuated with an 
organization called Association for Research and Enlightenment. The 
members, who were followers of the psychic Edgar Cayce, believed that 
records of a lost ancient civilization were hidden beneath the Sphinx. 
The association still exists, but had its heyday in the 1960s when the 
New Age was sweeping America. In search of arcane knowledge, 
Lehner visited Egypt, began to read Egyptology books and journals, 
and was soon disillusioned with Edgar Cayce’s revelations but not with 
Egypt. He returned to school, learned to read and write hieroglyphs, 
how to excavate an archaeological site, and today is one of Egyptology’s 
foremost authorities on the Giza Plateau. 

In the 1970s, surprisingly little was known about the Giza Plateau. 
There had been plenty of investigations of the pyramids. The 4th Dy- 
nasty tombs of the nobility that surround the pyramids had been thor- 
oughly excavated by German and American Egyptologists in the early 
twentieth century, but no one seemed to care about the lowly workers 
or where they had lived. Lehner began his search for them by survey- 
ing the entire Giza area. 

The first stage of an archaeological survey is amazingly simple. Walk 
around the area and look on the ground. Even after thousands of years, 
there are often clues right on the surface of the site. Usually this is 
just pottery — the handle of a water jar, the bottom of a cup — but such 

Hemienu Plans the Great Pyramid 


fragments can provide information about who lived there. Just as our 
dinnerware styles have changed over the years, ancient Egyptian pots 
and jars had changed. A drinking cup used by workmen in the time 
of Khufu is different from one used a thousand years later by an artist 
painting Tutankhamen’s tomb. Not only can the fragment tell you the 
period when a cup was used, it can tell you the status of the user. The 
cups of the elite were much finer than those used by workmen. Every 
excavation team has a pottery expert who can read these fragments of 
ancient lives. 

When doing the surface survey there are other clues as well that can 
help narrow the area you are searching. Lehner knew that the workers’ 
village wouldn’t have been on the Giza Plateau itself. That was prime 
real estate, reserved for royal pyramids and tombs of the nobles. The 
workers would have lived just below the plateau, within walking dis- 
tance, but in which direction? Ancient cities usually had enclosure walls 
for protection. Workers’ villages also had walls around them, but for a 
different purpose. Usually there was only one entrance, and this enabled 
the village overseer to keep careful tabs on who came and went. When 
Lehner found the remains of a long stone wall just half a mile southeast 
of the Great Pyramid, he began excavating. Soon what became known 
as the Lost City began emerging from the desert sands . 24 

Everything a thriving village of hungry workers would need was 
there. The remaining walls of a bakery were only a foot high, but the 
site was littered with cone-shaped clay bread molds. These molds were 
once filled with dough, stacked high in an oven, and baked. Any Egyp- 
tologist can tell you that if you find the bakery, the brewery can’t be far 
away. Egyptians drank beer and you need yeast to brew beer. It was a 
simple matter for the brewer to get his yeast from the baker. The bakery 
and brewery weren’t Lehner ’s only finds. Across town he found a gra- 
nary where huge amounts of grain were stored. It was a spacious court- 
yard filled with seven round mud brick silos, each about eight feet across. 
There are probably more nearby, beneath a modern soccer field where 
today boys play in the shadow of the Pyramid their ancestors built. 

When Lehner found the remains of the butcher shop, another expert 
on the team sprang into action. Paleozoologists can look at an ancient 
animal bone and tell you whether it is the knee cap of a goat or the ear 
bone of a pig. If you are excavating an ancient city and want to know 
what the inhabitants ate, these people are crucial. The analysis of the 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

bones found near the butcher shop revealed that the workers ate quite 
well. They were supplied with beef, sheep, goat, and occasionally pork. 
This was not the usual poor man’s diet. The typical laborer rarely ate 
meat; his basics were bread, beer, and onions. If the pharaoh’s work- 
ers were going to be doing strenuous labor, they would need plenty of 
protein and calories; they had to be fed well. Because it was difficult to 
keep meat fresh in ancient Egypt, much of these supplies were probably 
delivered on the hoof and slaughtered daily as needed. 

There were also administrative buildings where scribes and officials 
kept track of all the goods supplied to the workforce. Lehner even un- 
covered a large house he calls the Manor, where a high official who 
oversaw the workers’ village lived. Of all the buildings uncovered in 
the thirty years he has been excavating the Lost City, the strangest, dis- 
covered in 1999, is known as the Gallery. It’s a 100-foot-long building 
whose main feature is a mud brick partition running right down the 
middle, dividing the gallery into two sections each about six feet wide. 
It looks like Siamese bowling alleys. As excavations continued, more 
and more galleries were discovered throughout the Lost City. For now, 
the best bet is that they functioned as barracks, sleeping quarters for 
workmen, who would stretch out side by side, looking very much like 
two rows of sardines in a can. 

Lehner ’s three decades of excavating the Lost City has made the 
workmen come alive. We know what they ate, how they slept. We 
know there were other areas of the city where weaving took place, and 
where craftsmen hammered out copper chisels needed to quarry and 
shape the Pyramid’s blocks. It was a hive of activity and everyone was 
working for the glory of the pharaoh. 

When this army of workers started pouring into Giza, their first 
jobs were to build their houses, bakeries, breweries — everything a city 
of 25,000 needed to sustain itself. All the buildings were simple af- 
fairs made of mud bricks. No expensive stone could be wasted on mere 
workmen. There was little furniture in these modest houses, just a chest 
woven from palm fronds to hold clothing and some reed mats to sit and 
sleep on. Some of the workers were put to work digging the four-mile 
canal to the Nile so supplies could be floated right up to the work site. 
Although five-sixths of the Pyramid’s blocks would come from the 
Giza quarries, more than a quarter of a million tons of special stone still 
came from off-site quarries and had to be transported to Giza. Haul- 

Hemienu Plans the Great Pyramid 


ing sixty-ton granite blocks on sleds from the Nile over four miles of 
uneven sandy terrain is almost unthinkable. It was much easier to float 
them down the Nile and through the canal to the site. When the Egyp- 
tians did transport blocks of stone over land, they didn’t use wheels. 
One reason is that wheels sink into sand, but another is that they didn’t 
have a metal strong enough for axles to support blocks weighing sev- 
eral tons. So when the blocks came off the transport barges at the site’s 
harbor, they were already on their sleds and were hauled a short dis- 
tance to the Pyramid. Some of the sixty-ton stones were twenty-four 
feet long and four feet thick, and were placed on huge thirty-foot-long 
sleds made of thick cedar beams. Then with an overseer standing on 
top of the granite block calling out instructions, hundreds of workers 
pulled at the ropes to haul the block. 

There were two off-site quarries; the closer one was eight miles up- 
stream from Giza across the river on the eastern bank. The limestone 
at Giza was yellow, rough, uneven, and pocked with fossils, suitable 
only for the Pyramid’s inner fill that no one would ever see, not fine 
enough to cover what would become the Pyramid’s smooth, white ex- 
terior. For this purpose, nearly a quarter of a million tons of pure white 
covering would be cut from a 500-foot glistening mountain of lime- 
stone. The stoneworkers used four-inch-wide copper chisels and wood 
mallets. Copper is soft and dulls quickly, but fortunately limestone is 
also soft and splits along straight lines, so copper was adequate for the 
task. However, there must have been a small army of unskilled work- 
ers camped at the site whose job was just to sharpen the chisels as they 

Limestone has an unusual property that makes it ideal for quarry- 
ing. It is soft when first quarried but hardens when air hits it. Thus it 
was easiest to finish the fine blocks on the site when they were still soft. 
The average facing block weighed more than two tons and was three 
feet high, so several men could polish it at one time. Today the site 
where these blocks were quarried is called Tura. During World War 
II, the British stored ammunition in the tunnels excavated by Khufu’s 
quarry workers. After the war, the quarry was reopened for modern 
building stone and the ancient tunnels and traces of the workers were 

The second off-site quarry Hemienu needed was 500 miles south of 
Giza, on Egypt’s southern border at Aswan. Here a very different kind 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

of stone was found — granite. One hundred times harder than lime- 
stone and extremely difficult to extract and shape, it created a great 
challenge. Limestone couldn’t be used to span large spaces; it isn’t 
strong enough, but granite is. Up until the time of Hemienu, gran- 
ite was used sparingly because it is so difficult to work. But Hemienu 
decided that his king’s burial chamber inside the Pyramid would be 
constructed entirely of Aswan granite. It was needed purely for struc- 
tural reasons. Khufu’s burial chamber was going to be high inside the 
Pyramid, with hundreds of thousands of tons of stone above its roof. 
Somehow, the ceiling had to support this enormous weight above it. In 
the earlier pyramids at Dashur, a corbelled ceiling solved this problem, 
but Hemienu had another plan: he would do it without corbelling. We 
don’t know who made the decision to abandon corbelling. Perhaps the 
king himself decided he wanted something even greater than his fa- 
ther’s burial chamber. Maybe it was Hemienu’s idea. We can’t be sure, 
but we do know that the goal was a burial chamber with a flat ceiling. 
This would create a more open space than a corbelled ceiling that got 
smaller and smaller toward the top. Such a room would require granite, 
lots of it. Hemienu’s calculations would have indicated that more than 

3.500 tons had to be quarried, shaped, and shipped down the Nile to 
Giza. Since he knew both exactly how high up in the Pyramid the 
burial chamber would be and also the rate at which the Pyramid would 
rise each year, he knew the granite for the burial chamber would not be 
needed until the twelfth year of construction. He also knew it would 
take years to free that much granite from the Aswan quarry, and that 
work had to begin immediately. 

Granite was too hard to be worked using copper, the only metal 
available for chisels. Every block would have to be pounded out and 
shaped with hard dolerite rocks, some weighing sixteen pounds. Today, 

4.500 year later, the ancient quarry is still littered with hundreds of 
round, black rocks. Hemienu’s workmen repeatedly lifted and dropped 
these pounders on the granite, chipping away only millimeters at a 
time. Using this laborious process, they ultimately fashioned forty- 
three granite beams twenty-four feet long, weighing from thirty to 
sixty tons each. Add to this hundreds of smaller blocks, many four-foot 
cubes, but still weighing many tons each, and it seems an almost im- 
possible task with only stone tools. But Hemienu had done his calcula- 
tions. If the men were dispatched to Aswan now, at the beginning of 

The ancient dolerite pounders used to quarry granite. 

the project, the granite blocks should be ready for the pharaoh’s burial 
chamber when they were needed, just as the Pyramid approached 150 
feet in height. 

Probably five hundred men were dispatched to open the new quar- 
ries at Aswan. In twelve years they would provide more granite than 
Egypt had used in its entire history. An even larger number of men 
were sent to Tura to begin quarrying the fine limestone casing blocks 
that would make pharaoh’s Pyramid glisten in the sunlight. From the 
earliest stages of the Great Pyramid’s construction, Hemienu had four 
quarries simultaneously in operation: 1) The Giza Plateau itself was 
quarried around the Pyramid’s thirteen-and-a-half-acre base to provide 
limestone for the inner core. 2) Just south of the plateau, the southern 
quarry supplied more low-grade limestone for the inner core. 3) The 
Tura quarry, just a few miles to the south and across the river, pro- 
vided the fine, smooth limestone for the Pyramid’s outer casing. 4) The 
Aswan quarry, 500 miles south, yielded all the granite for the interior 
chambers of the Pyramid. 

In a period of twenty years, these four quarries would supply more 
than two million blocks of stone to construct the Great Pyramid, on 
average, more than 100,000 blocks a year. The men probably worked a 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

ten-hour day, which would mean that a completed block was quarried, 
transported, and pushed in place every three minutes — 365 days a year 
for twenty years! One wonders which is more remarkable, the Great 
Pyramid’s construction or the social organization needed to bring 
about that construction. 

Boats had to be built to transport hundreds of thousands of massive 
stone blocks. Three thousand five hundred tons of granite was shipped 
from the Aswan quarry during the first twelve years of construction. 
That’s about 300 tons a year that had to make the thirty-day journey 
north to Giza. Far more than that had to be shipped from the Tura 
quarry, but that was only an eight-mile haul. The transport barges had 
to be sturdy enough to support the heavy blocks and this required stout 
timbers, but Sneferu, Khufu’s father, had already solved that problem. 
When Sneferu was building his pyramids, he sent an expedition to 
Lebanon to trade papyrus, gold, and finely crafted objects for the mas- 
sive cedars of Lebanon. Khufu must have done the same for his pyra- 
mid fleet. 

Although the Pyramid is huge, and the quantities of stone, men, and 
supplies seem overwhelming, sometimes things are simpler than they 
appear. When I started thinking about how many boats were needed to 
transport the fine white limestone for the facing of the Pyramid from 
the Tura quarry, I had visions of the Nile clogged with barges. After 
all, hundreds of thousands of tons of stone were needed to face the four 
sides of the Pyramid. So let me ask you a question. How many boats 
had to be built to transport all that stone? One of my students answered 
the question very cleverly. 

Once a year I teach an Egyptology elective course at the Webb Insti- 
tute for Naval Architecture. An amazing place, one of the finest schools 
in the world for naval architecture, named after William Webb, who 
during the Civil War designed the Monitor, the North’s famous ironclad 
battleship. Webb went on to become America’s top ship designer; when 
he died he left his fortune to found the Webb Institute. He wanted the 
best for the best, so every student is on a full scholarship, and since only 
twenty are accepted each year, it is highly competitive. You may have 
seen the school. It is an old Edwardian-style mansion on Long Island 
Sound — and it was Wayne Manor in one of the Batman movies. 

Anyway, since the kids are so bright, I decided to ask my class the 
question I’ve asked you: How many boats were needed to transport 

Hemienu Plans the Great Pyramid 


the facing stones from the quarry to the Pyramid site? I wanted the 
class to think about the problem and give me their answers at our next 
meeting, but no more than thirty seconds had passed when one student 
raised his hand and said, “Two.” Incredibly, he’s probably right. He 
knew that the facing blocks were about three feet deep and had calcu- 
lated how many tons of stone were needed for a pyramid 480 feet high 
with a 756-foot base. Then he calculated the number of work days in 
twenty years. Let’s say it’s 300 days per year, so during twenty years 
there would be 6,000 work days. A boat could easily make the eight- 
mile voyage from Tura to Giza in a day, so if a boat took forty tons and 
you had two boats you could easily transport 250,000 tons of stone to 
the site in twenty years. That’s predicated on the assumption that each 
boat hauled forty tons. We must also remember that the Great Pyramid 
was not the only monument under construction on the Giza Plateau; 
there was an entire funerary complex. There were three small pyramids 
for Khufu’s queens, a mortuary temple, and a causeway, all requiring 
limestone. This would have raised the total amount of limestone used 
and raised the number of transport boats needed. 

We know that the transportation of all this stone was well within 
the capabilities of Egyptian boats because of a scene carved on Queen 
Hatshepsut’s temple about 1,000 years after the Great Pyramid was 
constructed. We are shown the moving of Hatshepsut’s two great obe- 
lisks from Aswan to the Karnak temple. Each obelisk weighed about 
250 tons, and both were placed on a single barge. 25 Thus a forty-ton 
barge for moving the facing stones would have posed no difficulties for 
Khufu’s workers. Even if they decided to have smaller boats capable of 
moving only five tons or two blocks, we are still talking about only a 
couple of dozen boats. Granted, you’d need to transport more stones in 
the earlier years than in the later years because the pyramid is larger on 
the bottom that the top, and you would also need extra boats to replace 
damaged ones, but still it is a manageable task. 26 

Harbors, ships, houses, and canals were only some of the resources 
needed to build Khufu’s Pyramid. Miles and miles of thick rope had to 
be woven to haul the millions of blocks on sleds to their final positions 
in the Pyramid. In the limestone quarries, thousands of copper chisels 
were needed to free the blocks from their matrix and cut them into the 
desired size and shape. Over the course of the next twenty years, more 
than 250 tons of copper would be needed for the pharaoh’s chisels. 27 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

Expeditions of miners were dispatched to the Sinai Desert, Egypt’s 
only source of copper. The journey to the Sinai was long and difficult. 
This was foreign territory inhabited by “barbarians.” The miners and 
their equipment, protected by the pharaoh’s soldiers, trekked through 
Egypt’s eastern desert to the banks of the Red Sea and then boarded 
transport vessels to cross to the Sinai. Then the party of fifty or so 
miners and their guards mounted donkeys for the nine-day journey to 
the mines . 28 The ore they chipped out of the mountain was crushed 
and then heated in kilns so the copper would run out. In pure form, 
the copper ingots were taken back by donkey to the transport ships and 
across the Red Sea. Once on the other side, it was back to the donkeys 
to pack it across the desert to the Nile. Finally the copper was shipped 
to the Pyramid site to be cast into the tools urgently needed by the 

Mortar was another important ingredient in the Pyramid. The Pyra- 
mid is much like a dam — the exterior surfaces are smooth and polished, 
but the interior is mostly rubble. When the Pyramid was built, first the 
smooth white Tura facing blocks were slid in place, then behind them 
were a few rows of backing blocks. Then the inside of the Pyramid 
was filled with irregular rough blocks. As the crude interior blocks 
were set in place on the Pyramid, the spaces between them were filled 
with mortar. From a quarry near the Giza Plateau, half a million tons 
of gypsum were mined and transformed into mortar for Khufu’s Pyra- 
mid . 29 This involved digging up the gypsum (calcium sulfate), burning 
it so that it loses about three-fourths its water, and then pulverizing it. 
When water is now added, it recombines to make something very simi- 
lar to our modern plaster, setting and becoming very hard . 30 The list of 
jobs tackled by Hemienu’s pyramid builders seems endless, and much of 
the success of the project was intimately linked to a huge supply chain, 
the first ever of such magnitude. 

A s the workers were pouring into the Giza Plateau, building their 
houses, digging canals, heading off to the Sinai for copper, and 
building barges to transport stone, Flemienu would have been under- 
taking the task of orienting the Pyramid. After it was decided that the 
Pyramid would occupy the northeast corner of the plateau and have a 
square base of thirteen and a half acres, it was determined for religious 

Hemienu Plans the Great Pyramid 


reasons that the Pyramid should be oriented to the four points of the 
compass. The stars seem to rotate around a fixed point in the sky. Today 
that point is the North Star. In the time of the Great Pyramid, it was 
different, but as the other stars rotated, their northern point was also 
constant. The deceased pharaoh was associated with this unchanging, 
eternal northern point; thus the entrance to the Pyramid would face 
due north toward that point. Orienting the sides of the Pyramid to the 
compass points would not have been a difficult task. The ancient Egyp- 
tians were skilled surveyors. Each year when the Nile overflowed its 
banks, boundary markers were washed away; when the water receded 
and the land emerged, everything had to be resurveyed. With centuries 
of surveying practice, the ancient Egyptians became quite good at it. 

There were several possible methods by which they could have de- 
termined true north. One method was solar. At noon, a perfectly ver- 
tical staff called a gnomon will not cast a shadow because the sun is 
directly overhead. Mark the shadow it casts five minutes before noon, 
then mark it five minutes after noon, bisect the angle and the line of 
bisection will point due north. A series of gnomons would provide 
greater accuracy when all their lines were connected. 

A second method used the stars. A wall about five feet high is built 
on the site, creating an artificial, perfectly level horizon. In the evening, 
facing in the general direction of north, an astronomer-priest would 
observe the passage of the stars across the sky. He would mark the wall 
where a given star first rose above it. Later that night, he would mark 
where the star disappeared behind the wall. The midpoint between 
these two points is north. This observation could be repeated many 
nights with different stars to obtain an exact reading for north. 31 

Another astronomical method of determining north has recently 
been suggested. This involves the careful observation of two stars, 
Kochab and Mizar. When one was directly above the other, the line 
connecting them indicated true north. 32 Whichever technique the an- 
cient Egyptians used, it worked. The sides of the Pyramid are remark- 
ably aligned to the four points of the compass. 

Hemienu understood that with something as large as the Great Pyr- 
amid, precision is crucial. Being off by an inch at the base could cause 
a deviation of yards at the top. Thus the base had to be as close to 
perfectly level as possible — and it is. At the base of the Pyramid, each 
side stretches 230 meters but never deviates from level by as much as an 

To orient the Great Pyramid’s four sides to the four points of the compass, astronomer-priests 
may have observed the rising and setting of stars behind an artificial horizon. 

Hemienu Plans the Great Pyramid 


inch. We are not certain exactly how Hemienu achieved such accuracy, 
but it has often been suggested that the principle was the same as using 
a modern carpenter’s spirit level, the kind with a bubble of liquid in it. 
A thin trench was cut around the perimeter of the Pyramid and filled 
with water. The level of the water was then traced on the wall of the 
trench and that was the starting base line. The trench could be filled 
in up to the base line and the rest of the perimeter leveled in accor- 
dance with the line. Once the perimeter was level, the first blocks were 
almost ready to be put in place. 

The base of the Pyramid covers approximately thirteen and a half 
acres, about ten football fields, but Hemienu didn’t level the entire 
area. Rather, he left an outcropping of limestone twenty-one feet high 
still attached to the bedrock in the middle of the base. Thus the first 
twenty-one feet of the middle of the Pyramid did not have to be built 
out of blocks; blocks were only needed for the perimeter. Tourists who 
visit the Pyramid don’t realize this because the stonemasons sculpted 
the bedrock to look like blocks. The average Pyramid block is a three- 
foot cube. Some of the exposed “blocks” appear to be thirty feet long. 
They are not really blocks, just carved bedrock, so other blocks could 
be stacked on top of it. The outcropping comprises approximately 10 
percent of the Pyramid’s mass — a substantial saving of labor and ma- 
terials. With the perimeter leveled and the first twenty-one feet of the 
center of the Pyramid already rising from the quarry, the actual build- 
ing was ready to begin. This is where planning was crucial. 

There is a tendency to think of the Great Pyramid as simply a huge 
building block construction. Start hauling blocks up a ramp, push them 
in place, and repeat the process until you come to a space where you 
want a chamber. Build around that space and then continue placing 
the giant blocks until you reach the top of the Pyramid. Such building 
techniques will not get you the Great Pyramid of Giza. The construc- 
tion and engineering problems to be solved are far too complex for 
such a simpleminded approach. For example, the techniques for install- 
ing blocks at the bottom of the Pyramid cannot be used at the top. At 
the base you merely push the stones into place, but when you near the 
top of the Pyramid it gets tricky — you have to raise the stones 450 feet. 
Also, each chamber inside the Pyramid is designed differently and re- 
quires different construction methods. 

Because there were so many different aspects to the Great Pyra- 

What appear to be very long blocks of stone are 
really part of the Giza Plateau bedrock that has 
been shaped. 

*v ',V,' 



The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

mid, it was an extremely difficult project to plan, but by the time 
Khufu became pharaoh, Egypt had been building pyramids for a hun- 
dred years. On the Egyptian scale of things, a century doesn’t seem 
like much, but that is a long time to gain experience and to perfect 
construction techniques. When Hemienu began planning his pharaoh’s 
Pyramid, there was quite a history of pyramid construction to draw 
upon, though he intended to go far beyond anything that had ever 
been done or imagined. 

The Underground 
Burial Chamber 

Giza, Egypt, 2584 b.c. (Year 5 in the reign of Khufu) 

D uring the first few years of building, all problems in the work 
plan were ironed out. Where the men would live, how they 
would be fed, and who would make up the various work 
gangs or teams were all decided. Tremendous social organization was 
needed, but such issues had been figured out during the construction of 
the earlier pyramids. 

W hile the bedrock was still exposed, masons began carving out 
the descending passageway that led to the underground burial 
chamber. This chamber was to be used only if Khufu died during the 
first ten years of construction. Because the descending passage was 
never intended for heavy traffic — -just the pharaoh’s sarcophagus — it is 
rather small, just large enough for one person to walk around or move 
in hunched over. It must have been carved by a single master stone- 
mason, as there is no room for two people to work in it. Of all the 
chambers and passages in the Great Pyramid, it is the most precise. An 
engineering marvel, the exactly cut rectangular tunnel descends 230 
feet, pointing due north and never deviating by more than a quarter 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

of an inch. At the early stages of the Pyramid’s construction when the 
subterranean chamber was being carved out, this passage served as the 
highway that daily brought the workers to their jobs underground. 

Once the descending passage was completed, a team of workers began 
carving out the burial chamber. At first only one man, working at the end 
of the passage, could carve the beginnings of the subterranean chamber 
into the bedrock. Then, when there was room for a coworker, a second 
mason joined him and they chipped away at the limestone until the small 
chamber could accommodate a third worker, and so it went until a team 
of more than a dozen were working there. Just as in all excavated tombs, 
they began at the ceiling and excavated downward, assisted by gravity. If 
you carved a tomb from the bottom up, you would always have to swing 
your mallet upward and fight gravity. 

The men who excavated the underground chamber didn’t need 
great skills. They were really just roughing out the twenty-six-by- 
forty-three-foot room. As they worked and the chips accumulated, 
even less skilled workers carried the chips in baskets up the descending 
passage to the surface. Later, more skilled craftsmen could put the fin- 
ishing touches on the king’s burial chamber. But the skilled craftsmen 
were never needed. As the Pyramid progressed the pharaoh was clearly 
in good health. Hemienu could now move on toward a burial chamber 
high up in the Pyramid. 

A fter the first few years of work, the Pyramid had risen only about 
twenty of its 482 feet, but the outcropping of bedrock left in place 
had now disappeared inside the Pyramid. As the Pyramid grew, tier by 
tier, it was not perfectly level. Only the outer-facing blocks, already 
carefully dressed, and those immediately behind them were set in place 
with precision. Inside this thin perimeter, rough blocks of various sizes 
were crudely pushed into place and the spaces between them filled with 
rubble and mortar. Every thirty feet or so, the Pyramid was leveled 
carefully and then the construction continued. As Hemienu prepared 
to build the second burial chamber, raising blocks efficiently became 
essential. In the very first stages, it was a simple matter to just push 
blocks into place, but when the Pyramid rose past 150 feet or so, raising 
the two-and-a-half-ton blocks became a real chore. 

Photographic Insert I 

The stone columns at the entrance to the Step Pyramid were carved to resemble bundles of 

papyri tied together. 

The Bent Pyramid was Egypt’s first great architectural disaster. 

The pyramid of Meidum looks more like a fortress 
than a pyramid because in the Middle Ages its 
stones were quarried for other buildings. 

An 1880s photo of the Great Pyramid. 


Computer reconstruction of the Great Pyramid after 5, 14, 15, 19, 20, and 21 years of construction. 


The Pyramid is just a few courses high and the white 
bedrock core inside the Pyramid is still visible. 


The Burial Chamber is now being constructed and 
the external ramp used to build the lower courses of 
the Pyramid has reached its maximum height. 


The Burial Chamber is under construction 
and a kind of step pyramid is built at 60 feet. 
The external ramp is still in place. 


The Burial Chamber and relieving chambers have 
been completed, and the external ramp used for 
the lower courses has been removed and the 
materials have been reused to complete the upper 
part of the Pyramid. 


The Pyramid nears completion. 


The Pyramid is complete with all its gleaming white 
facing stones in place. 

The Underground Burial Chamber 


For the early stages, a simple exterior ramp would do just fine. Up 
to about 200 feet a ramp is neither too massive nor too long to be im- 
practical and undoubtedly Hemienu built the first 200 feet or so with 
a single ramp. The terrain dictated that the ramp be on the south side 
of the Pyramid; it was the only side of the Giza Plateau without a steep 
drop-off. The south was also where the quarry was, so this reduced 
the distance the blocks had to be hauled. At the beginning stages of 
the Pyramid’s construction, the ramp had to be quite wide, more than 
100 yards, to accommodate teams of workmen simultaneously pull- 
ing blocks up. At that point, one block was being pushed into place 
every three minutes. From the start, the ramp was built at its maxi- 
mum length, stretching a quarter of a mile south toward the quarry. 
To make sure that a constant stream of blocks was always moving, the 
ramp was probably divided into two parts. One part was used for haul- 
ing and for the workmen returning back down. Meanwhile, the other 
half was being raised in readiness for the next course of stones. Once 
an additional level of stones was in place, the workers started hauling 
up the other side and the side they had just abandoned was raised to be 
ready for the next level. Thus half the ramp was always being built up 
while the other half was in use. 

The majority of the blocks that went up the ramp were rough two- 
and-a-half-ton filler blocks extracted from the southern quarry. Some 
were much larger. When the Pyramid was sixty feet high, twelve huge 
twenty-ton limestone blocks were hauled up the ramp. It was time for 
construction to begin on the second burial chamber, usually called the 
Queen’s Chamber. 

Compared with the unfinished underground burial chamber, the 
eighteen-foot-square second chamber is quite small. It appears almost 
as if Hemienu knew the king would live long enough to be interred 
in the third burial chamber that would be built higher up inside the 
Pyramid. In the Queen’s Chamber, a roofing technique was tested that 
would later be crucial in the third burial chamber. 

The ceiling is the weak point of any chamber inside a pyramid. It 
must support the enormous weight of the pyramid above it, and no 
beams — not even granite — can bear that kind of load. In the earlier 
pyramids at Meidum and Dashur, there were no beams; corbelling was 
the solution. But the third burial chamber was going to have a flat ceil- 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

ing, the first ever inside a pyramid. Somehow, the weight had to be 
taken off the ceiling beams or they would crack. 

Rather than corbelling the walls inward as they rose to the ceiling, 
the walls of the second burial chamber go straight up like traditional 
walls, but then they are capped by six pairs of huge white limestone 
rafters that meet at a 120-degree angle. These rafters distribute the 
weight of the Pyramid above them into the solid body of the Pyra- 
mid below. The rafters were put in place sometime after the tenth year 
of construction, and an ascending passage leading to the second burial 
chamber was also built. So now two passageways led from the Pyra- 
mid’s entrance to two burial chambers — the unfinished one beneath 
the Pyramid and the second burial chamber inside the Pyramid. Like 
the first burial chamber, the second is incomplete, again a sign that 
Khufu was healthy and expected to live long enough to be buried in 
the third chamber, even higher up in the Pyramid. 

After ten years of construction, two burial chambers and two passageways had been 
completed inside the Great Pyramid. 

The Queen’s Chamber was the 
first to use rafters to support 
the weight of the Pyramid 

Modern Tomb Raiders: 

The Search for Hidden Chambers 

The Great Pyramid, 1986 

T he vast majority of tourists who visit the Great Pyramid never 
go inside; many don’t even know it’s possible. Group tours to 
Egypt are a whirlwind affair — “Not much time, we have to 
keep moving.” Usually a morning visit to the Giza Plateau involves 
a walk around the Great Pyramid as the guide explains how tall it is, 
who built it, and how many stones were used. That is followed by a 
drive to a spot where you can take a “panoramic picture” of the Giza 
pyramids, and then a drive to see the Sphinx and the Valley Temple of 
Kephren. If there are a few minutes to spare, and the traveler is adven- 
turous, there are plenty of camel drivers eager to take him for a ride. 
The special ticket to go inside the Pyramid costs 100 Egyptian pounds 
(about twenty dollars) and only 100 are sold each day, to keep the hu- 
midity constant inside the Pyramid. Thus, it is the rare tourist who sees 
the inside of the Pyramid and almost everyone who does is confused by 
what he sees. 

To the first-time visitor, the Pyramid seems to be a maze of corri- 
dors and rooms with no clear purpose. The best way to make sense of 
the Pyramid is to remember that there are three burial chambers and 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

a passage leading to each. 1) There is a descending passage that goes 
into the bedrock to the subterranean burial chamber. 2) The cham- 
ber erroneously called the Queen’s Chamber higher up in the Pyramid 
is reached via the ascending passageway. 3) The last burial chamber, 
the King’s Chamber, highest up in the Pyramid, is reached by a pas- 
sage called the Grand Gallery. Three burial chambers, three passages; 
sounds easy but once you’re there it’s overwhelming. 

For centuries there have been rumors of hidden chambers filled 
with treasures Khufu intended to take with him to the next world. 
There have been plenty of failed scientific attempts to find them, so 
by now you would think that everything is known about the Pyramid. 
Not quite. Incredible as it seems, in 1986 two French tourists visit- 
ing the Pyramid discovered evidence for a chamber that had remained 
hidden for 4,500 years. 

The two men, Gilles Dormion, a design technician, andJean-Patrice 
Goidin, an architect, were hunched over in the low horizontal pas- 
sage that leads to the Queen’s Chamber when they noticed something 

When finally completed, the Great Pyramid had three burial chambers and three major 

Modern Tomb Raiders 


strange. The passage is about four feet high and 100 feet long — not for 
the claustrophobic — and is constructed of polished limestone blocks. In 
any culture, when you build with blocks or bricks, you normally don’t 
stack one block directly on top of the other. That would create unstable 
tall columns of blocks. Just look at any brick wall and you’ll see the 
familiar pattern of a brick on top resting on the two bricks beneath it. 
This is also the way the Great Pyramid was built. Go through the pas- 
sages and chambers and you will see one stone resting on two beneath 
it. Our Frenchmen were experienced at building and they knew this, 
too. As they duckwalked through the low passage, something caught 
their eye. A section of one of the walls was constructed the wrong way: 
the blocks were stacked 
up directly one on top 
of the other so that the 
joins formed plus signs. 

This is the only place in 
the Great Pyramid where 
blocks had been laid this 
way. Why? As visions of 
hidden treasure danced 
in their heads, they won- 
dered, could there be a 
hidden room behind the 
special wall? 33 

The two men re- 
turned to France with 
dreams of excavating 
and finding Khufu’s 
treasures. It might seem 
rather fanciful for two 
tourists to even be thinking about excavating in the Great Pyramid, 
but this was the 1980s and regulations about excavating were much 
more lax than they are now. Today you must be affiliated with a uni- 
versity, have academic credentials, submit a detailed proposal of exactly 
what you want to do and how you intend to do it, and have an equally 
well-documented team behind you. But in the 1980s, if you were well 
connected and didn’t look like you were going to damage anything, 
you had a chance. Dormion and Goidin were well-respected profes- 

An unusual pattern of stacked blocks led to the 1986 
discovery of a previously unknown chamber. The metal 
screw heads are stoppers for the drill holes. 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

sionals who knew other well-respected professionals, and soon they had 
put together a team called Operation Kheops. 

They were amateurs, but they planned their project well. They in- 
tended to study the Pyramid nondestructively — without moving any 
blocks. To do this they needed some high-tech help. They enlisted the 
aid of a company that used a technique called microgravimetry. The 
principle is simple, the application is not so simple. 

Anything with mass has a gravitational attraction. As is well known, 
the moon’s gravitational attraction to Earth causes the tides. The gravi- 
tational force of the stone blocks in the Great Pyramid can be detected 
with a very sensitive device called a microgravimeter. Imagine one 
small section of the Pyramid that is about the size of a house. We can 
use the microgravimeter to measure the gravitational force of this area. 
We can compare this force with that generated by a second section of 
the Pyramid of exactly equal size. What if the second section has a 
smaller gravitational force? What would that mean? It’s the same “size” 
as the first section, but it must have less mass. Why? One reason could 
be that inside the area is a hollow space, an unseen chamber. There are 
fewer stone blocks in this section, less mass, and thus a weaker gravita- 
tional force. This is the principle of microgravimetry — detect minute 
gravitational anomalies in the Pyramid and you might find a hidden 

With the help of some high-placed friends, the two Frenchmen ob- 
tained the backing of the French Ministry of Foreign Relations and 
submitted their formal proposal to the Egyptian Antiquities Organiza- 
tion. There are two very different kinds of permissions one can apply 
for. One is to excavate, in which you’re requesting permission to dig 
in the ground, shift sand, or move blocks of stone. Here, if you don’t 
know what you’re doing, you can damage the tomb or temple you are 
excavating. The second kind of permission is to survey a monument. 
In this kind of project you merely want to map, diagram, and record 
the monument. Operation Kheops’s application was for a survey. The 
Frenchmen proposed the most comprehensive search for hidden cham- 
bers ever. The proposal was accepted and soon Operation Kheops was 
off to Egypt with a load of high-tech equipment. 

Operation Kheops took thousands of readings with the microgravi- 
meter, not just where they suspected the hidden chamber might be, but 
up and down the entire Pyramid from all four sides. While they were 

Modern Tomb Raiders 


working, their architects drew maps of every wall in every known 
chamber and passage in the Great Pyramid, producing the most de- 
tailed plans of the Pyramid ever created. 

When Operation Kheops returned to France, a Cray 1 supercom- 
puter analyzed the thousands of measurements taken by the micro- 
gravimeter and printed out the equivalent of hundreds of X-rays of 
the Pyramid. Sure enough, the computer analysis showed some kind 
of cavity behind the west wall of the passage leading to the Queen’s 
Chamber, just where the Frenchmen had noticed the unusual stack- 
ing of the blocks. 34 The new finding was so intriguing that the Egyp- 
tian Antiquities Organization permitted the French to drill three small 
holes through the wall to see if they could reach the hidden chamber. 
After drilling the first hole for nearly nine feet, they found nothing, 
just solid blocks of stone. They changed the angle of the second hole, 
thinking that perhaps they had drilled above or to the right or left of 
the hidden chamber, just missing it. Again, no luck. The third hole 
was their last chance; they would be permitted no more drilling in the 
Pyramid. Once again changing the angle, and after nearly nine feet of 
solid rock, they broke through into a room filled with fine sand. What 
had Hemienu done? 

At first their instinct was to drill deeper, past the sand to see if there 
was something beyond. But drilling deeper in such a narrow passage- 
way would be difficult and it was not clear if the Egyptian Antiquities 
Organization would permit more holes in their Pyramid. So the team 
returned to France to retool their instruments for a more detailed mi- 
crogravimetric survey of the newly revealed chamber. As they were 
planning their return campaign, ajapanese team came up with an even 
better way of seeing what was behind the wall — ground penetrating 
radar (GPR). They too obtained permission from the Egyptian Antiq- 
uities Organization to survey the Great Pyramid. Unlike the French 
team, the Japanese were affiliated with a university, Waseda in Tokyo, 
that had a tradition of excavating in Egypt. Their leader, Dr. Sakuji 
Yoshimura, was a professional Egyptologist, so the Japanese had several 
advantages over the amateurs. 

From January 22 to February 9, 1987, the Japanese conducted their 
survey using GPR. With ordinary radar, electromagnetic waves are 
sent out by a transmitter, the waves are reflected by the target, and a 
receiver interprets the reflected waves. With ground penetrating radar, 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

high-frequency radio waves are transmitted into the ground and the 
receiver interprets the returning signals to determine if there are any 
anomalies in the ground. GPR is used extensively in building projects 
to make sure the foundation for a building isn’t above a natural cavern. 
The Waseda team sent radio waves through the west wall of the cor- 
ridor leading to the Queen’s Chamber, and confirmed a passageway 
parallel to the west wall that is filled with sand. The Japanese were not 
allowed to drill holes, so the contents of this space remain unknown. 

Taking the French team’s discovery of the sand one step further, the 
Japanese analyzed it under a microscope and learned that it is not local. 
Sand at Giza and Saqqara is mostly calcite and other minerals. This sand 
is almost pure quartz and the grains are much larger than those of local 
sand. 35,36 What was so special about this sand that caused the ancient 
builders to import it? And what was it doing inside the Pyramid? No 
one knows the answer, but there are two points to be learned from the 
French and Japanese expeditions to the Great Pyramid. The first is that 
there are still discoveries to be made inside the Pyramid. The second, 
as we shall see later, is that without realizing it, the French may have 
discovered the internal ramp. 

Athens, Greece, September 1988 

S oon after the French team’s discovery, members of the team pre- 
sented their findings at the annual international conference of the 
IAEG (International Association for Engineering Geology and the 
Environment). A high-tech conference, it highlights how new tech- 
nologies can assist geological surveys, prospecting, and other ventures. 
In 1988 the conference was held in Athens, and H. D. Bui, the team 
member responsible for analyzing the data, presented the paper. Bui is 
what scientists call a heavy-hitter. He is a distinguished member of both 
the French and European Academies of Science. A slightly built man 
of fifty who speaks with a gentle voice and a tone of authority, he has a 
reputation for rarely being wrong. As he began his lecture, he stressed 
the potential usefulness of microgravimetry to archaeology, and then 
went on to describe the discovery of the chamber behind the west wall 
and the sand that it contained. He explained that aside from this find- 
ing, their project had nothing to add to the construction of the Great 

Modern Tomb Raiders 


Pyramid. He casually mentioned that his analysis of the data produced 
one anomaly that didn’t make any sense, but it should be mentioned for 
the sake of completeness. The anomaly showed “zones [that] are not 
correlated horizontally and can suggest various building arrangements . . . 
spiral constructions . . — ramp-like areas. No one seemed interested 

in this observation and it passed without comment. Most of the scien- 
tists were geologists, not particularly interested in archaeology. 

The Grand Gallery 

Giza, Egypt, 2519 b.c. (Year 10 in the reign of Khufu) 

A round the tenth year of construction, the rafters of the Queen’s 
Chamber were slid in place and Hemienu’s focus shifted 
toward building the third and last burial chamber. However, 
before constructing the King’s Chamber, Hemienu built another room, 
a room so strange that no one has ever explained its purpose. 

The Grand Gallery has puzzled Egyptologists for two centuries; it 
just doesn’t make sense either as a room or a passageway. The gallery’s 
most striking feature is its height — a soaring twenty-eight feet, which, 
when compared to the other cramped passageways in the Pyramid, 
makes it seem even higher. It leads up to the King’s Chamber, but if 
it were only a passageway to a room, why the great height? There are 
other inexplicable features. The base of the Grand Gallery is eighty- 
two inches wide — almost seven feet — with stone benches twenty inches 
wide and two feet high running along both sides of the walls for 150 
feet, almost the entire length of the Grand Gallery. 

What is the purpose of these benches? They constrict the walking 
space to forty-two inches. Carved into the benches are slots at regular in- 
tervals of one and a half cubits. (A cubit, the primary unit of length in an- 
cient Egypt, was approximately twenty inches.) Again, to what purpose? 

The Grand Gallery 


The Gallery is corbelled in seven stages, each stepped inward three 
inches. At the top the span is forty-one inches, much wider than the 
corbelled ceilings in earlier pyramids. The only aspect of the Grand 
Gallery easily explained is the 50 percent upward slope toward the 
burial chamber. It is an easily measured incline. For each cubit you 
build up, you go out twice the distance. This is called a 50 percent 
grade. Such a slope is simple for workmen to follow, but this aspect of 
the Grand Gallery is about the only one we do understand. The Grand 
Gallery doesn’t make sense as a passageway, but it doesn’t make sense as 
a room, either. It certainly wasn’t meant to hold the pharaoh’s treasures; 
the proportions are all wrong for that. What was its function? 

As Jean-Pierre worked out the details of his internal ramp theory, 
he began to think more and more about the Grand Gallery. Then it hit 
him. Perhaps the function of the Grand Gallery is connected in some 
way to the next major construction, the King’s Chamber. Is there some 
aspect of the King’s Chamber that is unique and would have led to the 
construction of something like the Grand Gallery? At first glance, the 
answer was “no.” But when he looked again at the details of the King’s 
Chamber, the answer was “yes.” Forty-three huge granite beams rang- 
ing from thirty to more than sixty tons each were used to build the 
King’s Chamber. They had to be raised more than 140 feet onto the 
Pyramid, and nothing like that had ever been done in Egypt. 

Stone benches with slots in them line the 
Grand Gallery. 

The angle of the Grand Gallery’s incline is 
a 50 percent grade. For each cubit of height 
you extend 2 cubits horizontally. 

2 cubits 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

The Egyptians were undeniably skilled at moving heavy stones. Two 
thousand years after the Great Pyramid was built, they were moving 
and erecting 250-ton obelisks, but we don’t have any ancient records of 
how they did it. Our best indication of how they moved large stones is 
painted on a wall of the tomb of Djehuti-hotep, who governed one of 
the provinces of Egypt about 500 years after the Pyramid was built. 

I love this painting. It reminds me of the scene in the 1923 Cecil B. 
DeMille silent film The Ten Commandments where the oppressed Isra- 
elites are hauling stones up a ramp. If you look closely you will see that 
the men are hauling the stones up the unfinished obelisk that lies at 
an angle in the Aswan granite quarry. With just as much drama as the 
film, the tomb painting shows a colossal statue of Djehuti-hotep being 
pulled by 172 men. The statue rests on a sled and a worker standing by 
the statue’s feet pours water or oil in front to lubricate the way. There is 
even an overseer, standing on the lap of the statue, who is clapping the 
rhythm to which the men pull. Moving the statue was no easy feat. In 
the painting we see men carrying large wood beams, perhaps replace- 
ment parts in case the sled breaks. The hieroglyphs on the tomb wall 
tell the story of moving the statue and how everyone was happy to par- 
ticipate. Some divisions of the military were called in, but priests were 
also hauling on the ropes. Locals pitched in, even the old and infirm. 
“The aged one among them leaned upon the boy, the strong-armed 
was with the trembler [palsied]. Their hearts rose, their arms became 
strong.” 37 I think there must have been a similar feeling of camaraderie 

Tomb painting of a statue of the nobleman Djehuti-hotep being pulled on a sled by 172 men. 

tr»rtrr?rT r 

The Grand Gallery 


among Hemienu’s workers, a feeling they were participating in some- 
thing great. 

The statue was thirteen cubits (twenty-two feet) high and weighed 
approximately fifty-eight tons, as much as some of the huge granite 
blocks that had to be raised forty-three meters up the Great Pyramid 
to be used in the King’s Chamber. But there is an important differ- 
ence. The statue was pulled on level ground; Hemienu had to raise 
the blocks up a long ramp. The largest block used to build the King’s 
Chamber is sixty-three tons and we can calculate that it would take ap- 
proximately 630 men to pull a sixty-three-ton block up the Pyramid’s 
ramp. It would have been extremely difficult to coordinate so many 
workers and difficult to position so many men on the ramp. For cen- 
turies Egyptian builders had used manpower to haul heavy blocks, but 
now that the blocks had to be raised 140 feet, something entirely new 
had to be invented. As Jean-Pierre created three-dimensional models 
of the Grand Gallery, his architect’s mind concluded that the Gallery 
wasn’t ceremonial, it was functional. As he added more and more de- 
tails to the computer model, he realized its function. The Grand Gal- 
lery was built to raise the huge granite beams. 

Hemienu designed a counterweight system to raise the largest 
blocks, and the heart of this system was the Grand Gallery. Think of 
the Grand Gallery as a railroad track with the stone benches as the rails 
on which the car will run. That’s why the Grand Gallery is so narrow 
and that’s the purpose of the stone benches. Now imagine one of the 
huge granite blocks at the bottom of the ramp with ropes attached to 
the block that run up the ramp and at the other end are attached to the 
trolley car at the top of the Grand Gallery. The trolley is loaded with 
four-and-a-half-ton granite blocks that serve as counterweights. When 
the brake is released, the trolley slides down the Grand Gallery and the 
large granite beam is pulled up the ramp. It is a bit more complicated 
than that, but not much. Jean-Pierre began to fill in more and more of 
the details. 

To reduce the friction between the bottom of the car and the bench 
(remember, the Egyptians didn’t use wheels) and ensure that the coun- 
terweights move smoothly down the Grand Gallery, rollers made of logs 
were placed across the width of the Gallery, their ends resting on the 
benches. The rollers thus form skids, very much like those used to slide 
boxes of groceries from the delivery trucks down into the basements 

When the counterweights were 
released and slid down the Grand 
Gallery, they pulled a large granite 
beam up the external ramp. 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

of supermarkets. The twenty-eight pairs of slots in the benches (spaced 
one and a half cubits apart) were used as part of a braking system for 
the trolley and counterweights, as well as for keeping the logs in line. 
By inserting wood beams with carved ratchets into the slots, the trolley 
could be held stationary at almost any point in the gallery. 

The full run of the counterweight trolley was seventy-five cubits, 
about 130 feet, not long enough to pull the beam up the full length of 
the ramp. Eleven trolley trips were needed to raise each beam from the 
base to the level of the King’s Chamber. Every time the trolley made 
a run down the Grand Gallery, the beam would move 130 feet up the 
ramp, and remain there until the trolley was brought to the top and 
the rope shortened and reattached to the beam for another journey — 
downward for the trolley and upward for the beam. Hemienu probably 
realized that there was a way to speed up this whole process. Instead of 
the entire length of the Gallery being spread with rollers, only half the 
Gallery had rollers. Imagine that the rollers are at the top of the Gal- 
lery, stretching only halfway down, and the counterweight trolley rests 
upon them at the top. Now we release the brake and the rollers turn as 
the trolley slides downward. But that’s not all. Because the rollers are 
not fixed and only cover half the Gallery, they slide down the Gallery 
along with the trolley, so the trolley is actually moving twice as fast as 
the rollers. The trolley moves along with the rollers — that’s one unit 
of speed — but as the rollers turn the trolley also moves down along the 
rollers, a second unit of speed. This would have been another ingenious 
labor-saving device that cut time from the construction of the Pyramid. 

The counterweights, by themselves, do not provide enough force 
to raise the largest beams. The system would have required an addi- 
tional eighty men pulling, in addition to those reloading the trolley 
and so on, but still, this is a tremendous savings from the 630 or so 
men that would have been needed without the counterweight system. 
Jean-Pierre is the first ever to suggest the Grand Gallery was designed 
to lift the larger blocks. The idea is certainly possible, and even seems 
reasonable, but so far it is just theory. Is there any real evidence that the 
Gallery was used for this purpose? 

Along both vertical faces of the Grand Gallery are long, deep 
gouges that Jean-Pierre believes once held wood railings used to sta- 
bilize the trolley as it went up and down. Raising all the large blocks 
required approximately 800 round-trips of the trolley and it would 

TOP: The trolley containing the counterweights moved on log rollers placed across the stone 
benches in the Grand Gallery. BOTTOM: The slots in the stone benches were used to stabilize 
the rollers. 

TOP: Long gouges on the Grand Gallery’s walls may have held wooden “tracks” necessary to keep 
the trolley in line. BOTTOM: When the Pyramid was completed the granite counterweights were 
slid down the ascending passageway, sealing the entrance from tomb robbers. Three are still in place. 

The Grand Gallery 


be surprising not to see some physical signs of this. Running the full 
length of the stone benches are two thin brown lines that look like 
racing stripes. These could be the remains of grease used to lubri- 
cate the trolley. A very close inspection of these lines shows deep 
scratches, the kind of wear one would expect if the counterweight 
theory is right. 

Further evidence exists that the Grand Gallery was designed as a 
counterweight system. At the bottom of the ascending passageway you 
can still see some of the counterweights. When the Pyramid was com- 
pleted, the granite counterweights were slid down the ascending pas- 
sage to block the entrance from robbers. The ascending passageway is 
intentionally two inches narrower at the bottom than at the top so that 
when the counterweight blocks were slid down they would be stopped 
by the narrowing and become wedged in place at the bottom. One of 
these blocks was chiseled away by the caliph A1 Mamun’s men in the 
ninth century when they forced their way into the Pyramid in search 
of treasure, but two others still remain. 

There is another bit of evidence for the counterweight system, but 
it has been hidden for nearly a century. To maintain the stability of 
the counterweight trolley and keep tension on the rollers, a cylindrical 

A 191 1 photograph shows a groove for ropes in the large block at the top of the Grand Gallery. 

The Grand Gallery 

10 S 

ballast stone was attached to the rollers. This weight hung down into 
the ascending passageway. 

There was a special V-shaped groove for the rope of this ballast 
stone, but you can’t see it today. When modern tourists walk up the 
Grand Gallery, at the top they climb up two metal rungs inserted in 
a large block that enables them to continue on to the burial chamber. 
The steps are modern additions, but the block itself has also been re- 
stored. A photograph taken in 1911 shows it in its broken state with the 
groove through which the rope holding the ballast stone ran. 

If the primary purpose of the Grand Gallery was indeed to raise the 
huge stones needed for the burial chamber, then this also explains the 
unusually wide ceiling span at the top of the Grand Gallery. The coun- 
terweight system was not only used to raise the huge beams up the ramp, 
it was also used to raise them into position on top of the burial chamber. 
For the entire time the giant beams were being moved, the ceiling of the 
Grand Gallery had to remain open for the ropes to move freely. 

The asymmetry of the Grand Gallery also suggests that the ceiling 
remained open for quite a while. The Egyptians loved symmetry, so 
anytime it is broken, there’s a reason. To the untrained eye the Gallery 

The rigging system in the Grand Gallery used to haul the large granite beams up the ramp. 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

looks perfectly symmetrical — a tall, narrow hallway with a corbelled 
ceiling — but this is not quite the case. The narrow ends — the south 
and north walls — look similar but were constructed differently. In the 
lower end, the blocks of the sidewalls cross those of the north wall, as 
in weaving. To do this, the north and sidewalls had to have been built 
at the same time. Not so with the upper south end. Here the blocks of 
the sidewalls do not cross those of the south wall. The sidewalls were 
built parallel to each other and at some later date the blocks of the south 
wall were slipped in place against the sidewalls. Why? So the south end 
could remain open for the ropes of the counterweight system. As the 
beams of the ceiling were set in place, the blocks forming the south 
wall were also put in place. When all the giant beams were in place, 
the counterweight system had exhausted its use, and the Grand Gal- 
lery’s ceiling was roofed over. This asymmetry between the two ends 
of the Gallery is just one more indication that the primary function of 
the Grand Gallery was not as a passageway or chamber. For centuries 
adventurers and Egyptologists had it wrong. If Jean-Pierre is right, the 
Grand Gallery was Hemienu’s equivalent of the freight elevator. 

At the lower end of the Grand Gallery, the 
blocks cross those of the north wall, as in a 

At the Grand Gallery’s upper end, 
is no weaving and the blocks are parallel. 

The Burial Chamber 

Giza, Egypt, 2578 b.c. (Year 11 of the reign ofKhufu) 

T he primary function of the Grand Gallery was to assist the 
construction of the King’s Chamber, and to an ancient Egyp- 
tian the King’s Chamber would have been a miracle — a large 
rectangular room ten by twenty cubits (seventeen by thirty-four feet) 
with a flat ceiling and thousands of tons of stone above it. How could 
the ceiling support such weight? In the ancient world, spacious inte- 
riors were impossibilities. There were no materials such as steel that 
could span great distances without breaking, let alone support incred- 
ible weight. That’s why ancient Egyptian monuments often seem claus- 
trophobic. The Hypostyle Hall at Karnak Temple is a forest of tightly 
spaced pillars because the columns supported a ceiling and couldn’t be 
far from one another. 

Earlier pyramids had used corbelling to construct interior spaces 
within them, but they narrow toward the top. Hemienu pioneered a 
new technique with the Queen’s Chamber by using huge limestone 
rafters to distribute the weight above into the body of the Pyramid. But 
neither of these techniques was used for the King’s Chamber. 

The flat-ceilinged burial chamber is one of the most outstanding 
engineering feats of the ancient world, and required incredible plan- 

The columns of the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak Temple are closely spaced because they 
supported a ceiling. 

The Burial Chamber 


ning. Before the walls were constructed, the king’s granite sarcopha- 
gus had to be placed on the floor of the room to avoid having to haul 
it up through narrow passages once the ceiling was built. With the 
sarcophagus in position, the entire burial chamber was built of huge 
slabs of Aswan granite finished and set in place so precisely that the 
edge of a razor blade can’t fit between the blocks. As the walls of the 
burial chamber were constructed, the Pyramid was built up around it 
to the level of the room’s uncovered ceiling. It was now time to move 
the massive ceiling beams in place. The ceiling is composed of nine 
twenty-four-foot-long blocks weighing between forty-seven and sixty- 
three tons each. Once again, the Grand Gallery’s counterweight system 
was used to move huge blocks into position. Khufu now had his flat- 
ceilinged burial chamber, but the architectural challenges were just be- 
ginning. The flat ceiling could not support the weight of the upper 
courses of the Pyramid that would be built over it, so above the burial 
chamber a series of four relieving chambers — small granite rooms only 
four feet high, made of granite beams — were constructed. 

The first relieving chamber’s ceiling is made up of eight beams 
weighing between forty-four and sixty-three tons, which were moved 

The huge roof beams waiting to be pulled up by the counterweight system. 

One of the relieving chambers above the King’s Chamber. 

into place by the Grand Gallery’s counterweight system. Now we are 
at a height of more than 150 feet and are higher than the Grand Gal- 
lery, so the ropes used to haul the beams had to come out of the Grand 
Gallery’s open ceiling. Once again the trolley with counterweights slid 
down the Grand Gallery and the ceiling blocks were pulled into posi- 
tion. Sometime around the fifteenth year of Khufu’s reign, the process 
was repeated and a second relieving chamber directly above the first 
was constructed using nine slightly smaller beams weighing between 
thirty-five and fifty-three tons. The next year the ceiling was put on 
the third relieving chamber using nine beams weighing between thirty- 
five and fifty-seven tons. This same year the fourth and final relieving 
chamber was completed. 

The four relieving chambers above the burial chamber have puzzled 
Egyptologists for years. What was their purpose? We have already said 
that the flat ceiling of the burial chamber, even though constructed of 
huge granite slabs, cannot support the weight of the Pyramid above it. 
But doesn’t the same logic apply to the top relieving chamber? With 
the weight of the Pyramid above, won’t its beams crack? The answer 

The Burial Chamber 


is “yes.” The relieving chambers don’t really solve the problem. That’s 
why, above the fourth relieving chamber, there are rafters — eleven pairs 
of huge limestone blocks forming an inverted V that take the pres- 
sure off the ceiling and 
direct the forces into the 
solid mass of the Pyra- 
mid. But if that’s the 
case, why not put the 
rafters directly above 
the burial chamber and 
do away with the reliev- 
ing chambers? 

The answer liter- 
ally points to the Grand 
Gallery. If the rafters 
had been placed di- 
rectly above the ceiling 
of the burial chamber, 
the forces would still 
have been directed off 
the ceiling, but those 
forces would have gone 
directly into the hollow 
Grand Gallery, caus- 
ing it to collapse. He- 
mienu knew this, so he 
designed the relieving 

chambers to raise the 

rafters above the level of 
the Grand Gallery. He 
must have planned this 

solution from the beginning, knowing he would need all those huge 
granite blocks and the Grand Gallery to move them into place. 

Situating the eleven pairs of giant limestone rafters above the last 
relieving chamber marked a turning point in the construction of the 
Pyramid. The burial chamber was now completed and Hemienu must 
have breathed a giant sigh of relief. He had won the race to build the 
perfect burial place for his aging pharaoh. All that remained was to 

Above the last relieving chamber are huge limestone rafters 
to take the weight above off the ceiling below. 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

If the limestone rafters had been placed directly above the King’s Chamber, the Pyramid’s 
weight would have been directed into the Grand Gallery and it would have collapsed. 

build the uppermost part of the Pyramid, a small mass (27 percent of 
the volume) compared with what had been completed. The upper part 
contains no internal chambers or passages, so it should have been clear 
sailing. It wasn’t. 

Hemienu’s Solution 

Giza, Egypt, 2574 b.c. (Year 15 in the reign ofKhufu) 

O nce Hemienu completed the King’s Chamber, three-quarters 
of the volume of the Pyramid was in place, but Hemienu 
was far from done. The last quarter of the Pyramid presented 
an engineering problem no Egyptian architect had ever encountered 
before. No one had ever raised blocks 480 feet in the air and the ex- 
ternal ramp Hemienu had used up to now wouldn’t work for the top 
blocks. When the King’s Chamber was completed, the Pyramid was 
about 195 feet high. If the ramp were raised to accommodate the in- 
creasing height of the Pyramid, the angle of incline would quickly go 
beyond 8 percent, too steep for men to haul blocks up. If the angle 
were kept below 8 percent, the ramp would have to be lengthened to 
more than a mile to reach the top. That would mean the volume of 
the ramp would increase to about the same as the Great Pyramid itself! 
From the day he began building the Pyramid, Hemienu knew the time 
would come when the exterior ramp could not be used, but he left no 
record of how he solved the problem. 

Hemienu must have sketched detailed plans of how he intended to 
raise the blocks to the top of the Pyramid, but these diagrams have 
not survived. It isn’t surprising that plans drawn forty- five centuries 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

ago have not survived; what is surprising is that no construction plans 
of any kind have survived from ancient Egypt. Construction was the 
ancient Egyptians’ major preoccupation. For 3,000 years they were 
building big, but no plan survives. We have medical papyri, literary 
papyri, business transactions, love poetry, but no construction plans, 
and we don’t know why. Some scholars have suggested that building 
was a trade secret, and perhaps architects didn’t want to write down 
tricks of the trade, but this doesn’t seem right. As a temple was being 
constructed, everyone could see how it was done, especially the work- 
men. Building wasn’t an easy secret to keep. 

The answer to why no plans have been found may be in plain sight, 
carved into the Giza Plateau. The area around the Pyramid is not a flat, 
smooth surface; there are all kinds of holes gouged into it. Some seem 
to be postholes that once held poles erected to survey the Pyramid site. 
The largest holes are huge, gaping 200-foot pits that were cut into the 
limestone for the boats that would transport the pharaoh to the next 
world. These boat pits are well known to Egyptologists, and tourists 
also, but on the east side of the Pyramid, about a hundred feet from the 
base, is a sixty-foot trench that practically no one knows about. It just 
might be Hemienu’s plan for the Pyramid. 

The trench was first recorded in the 1880s by the Englishman Wil- 
liam M. Flinders Petrie, the father of modern Egyptology. Petrie stands 
out as a strange character in a field populated by eccentrics. His frugal- 
ity on expeditions is legendary. Once a young Egyptologist on one of 
Petrie’s digs noticed that no toilet paper had been included in the ex- 
pedition’s supplies. Afraid of asking Petrie, the young man approached 
Lady Petrie with the crucial question, only to be told, “Sir Flinders and 
I use potsherds.” 38 

To save on food costs for his expedition, Petrie bought in bulk, 
which sometimes meant that the archaeologists ate only tinned beef 
for the entire season. To save on packing the uneaten tins and bring- 
ing them back to England, at the end of the season Petrie would bury 
them on the excavation site and mark the place on the expedition’s 
map. Then at the beginning of the next season the tins would be dug 
up and the banquet could begin anew. 

Petrie’s father, a mechanical engineer, had read Piazzi Smyth’s book 
and was interested in the Great Pyramid “for its symbolic interest relat- 
ing to the higher ideas intentionally embedded therein by its origina- 

Hemienu’s Solution 


tor,” so young Petrie grew up hearing about his father’s plan to do a 
proper survey. For twenty years the father procrastinated, and in the 
meantime, Flinders became a proficient surveyor and conducted the 
first careful documentation of Stonehenge. Then in November of 1880, 
the twenty-six-year-old Flinders Petrie embarked for Egypt, accompa- 
nied by crates of scientific instruments. 

Soon after landing in Alexandria, Petrie and his crates wended their 
way to Cairo, where he found Ah Gabri, the same Egyptian assistant 
Smyth had used. Soon Ali had Petrie ensconced in a comfortable tomb 
with all the supplies he needed for his survey. Petrie’s system of survey- 
ing was far more accurate than Smyth’s. With the aid of a theodolite 
and a telescope, Petrie used the surveyor’s system of triangulation to 
take thousand of measurements all over the Giza Plateau. To ensure ac- 
curacy, he sometimes took the same measurement a dozen times. After 
months of working in the scorching Egyptian heat, Petrie calculated 
that his measurements of the perimeter of the Great Pyramid were ac- 
curate to a hundredth of an inch. 

Inside the Pyramid, Petrie was just as meticulous. Using a plumb 
line to determine the vertical, he measured the walls at various heights 
to detect the tiniest construction errors. Petrie was amazed at the ac- 
curacy of the ancient builders. He carefully measured the only object 
inside burial chamber, the empty sarcophagus made of the same mate- 
rial as the chamber, granite, a material incredibly difficult to work. 
Petrie concluded that to fashion it so precisely, the Egyptian stonecut- 
ters used saws and drills embedded with hard jewels and concluded 
that the Egyptians had tools better than his. Petrie was dead wrong on 
this score. There were no precious stones in Egypt. Ancient Egyptian 
tools were quite primitive, which makes the sarcophagus all the more 
remarkable. When the Pyramid was built the only metal tools were 
copper. The sarcophagus was the product of an astounding number of 
man-hours, cutting, grinding, and pounding away until it was perfect 
(see Appendix IV). 

Petrie didn’t just study the Pyramid. He surveyed the entire Giza 
Plateau, and in the course of his measurements discovered a curious 
sixty-foot trench cut into the bedrock. He quickly noticed that it is an 
exact model of the descending and ascending passageways in the Great 
Pyramid. He calls it “trial passages . . . being a model of the Great 
Pyramid passages, shortened in length, but of full size in width and 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

height .” 39 These trial passages are as finely cut as the passages inside 
the Great Pyramid. Petrie’s nineteenth- century diagram of them shows 
the angles of both the ascending and descending passages as almost ex- 
actly the same as inside the Pyramid, and just like the Great Pyramid, 
the passages are perfectly aligned north to south. The model is so well 
crafted that some Egyptologists have suggested it is the abandoned be- 
ginnings of a small pyramid . 40 What we are most probably looking at, 
however, is Hemienu’s plan for the Pyramid, not written on papyrus 
but carved in stone. 

There are tremendous advantages to a three-dimensional model 
over one drawn on paper. The model carved into the Giza Plateau is 
large enough that you can climb down into it and see how it works. As 
we have seen, when the Great Pyramid was completed, large granite 
blocks were slid down the ascending passageway to seal it from tomb 
robbers, thus the passage narrows very slightly at the bottom, to stop 
the blocks in just the right position as they slide down. The trial pas- 
sage narrows in just the same way and perhaps this is where Hemienu 
tried out his ancient antitheft device, to see if the blocks would slide 
smoothly down the passage . 41 

Hemienu’s ancient model in stone is not unique. A model of a royal 
tomb carved out of a single limestone block was found during the ex- 
cavation of the Middle Kingdom pyramids at Dashur . 42 Corridors and 
chambers are shown in such detail that you can even see how a sliding 

Flinders Petrie’s nineteenth-century diagram of the plan carved into the Giza Plateau of 
the Pyramid’s passageways. 

Hemienu’s Solution 

11 7 

block in front of the burial chamber was intended to seal the king’s 
treasures from robbers. This is clearly an architect’s working model 
used as a guide during the construction of the tomb. Hemienu’s model 
cut into the limestone bedrock probably had a similar purpose. 

All this suggests that ancient architects didn’t draw elaborate build- 
ing plans on papyrus, so it is unlikely that we are ever going to find a 
drawing by Hemienu showing how he intended to raise the two mil- 
lion blocks. In order to figure out Hemienu’s secret, we must look for 
indirect evidence. 

The earliest report directly connected to the Great Pyramid is an 
account by the famous Greek historian Herodotus, who visited Egypt 
around 450 b.c., two thousand years after Hemienu had completed 
the Pyramid. Herodotus didn’t visit only Egypt, he went all over the 
known world, and when he returned home he published the first travel 
book ever, which he titled Historic i, Greek for “researches,” the deriva- 
tion of our word “history.” His account of the pyramids has some glar- 
ing inaccuracies and certainly can’t be taken as gospel. For example, he 
says that there is “no block less than thirty feet in length.” 43 The truth 
is, few blocks are more than five feet in length. What was he looking 
at? Still, he has some interesting things to say about how the Pyramid 
was built. 

According to Herodotus, during its early stages of construction, the 
Pyramid was a stepped pyramid. Then, by means of levers, the remain- 
ing blocks were maneuvered up its steps. Herodotus adds that he is not 
sure if there were levers at each step or if only one lever was used and 
then carried up step-by-step as a block was raised. Different people told 
him different methods. The notion of levers has been picked up by sev- 
eral writers who suggest something like a shadouf may have been used. 

This shadouf was used in ancient Egypt to raise water from the Nile 
and continued in use through the twentieth century. It is a long pole on 
a pivot. At one end of the pole is a bucket for water and at the other is a 
weight, usually a dried ball of mud that makes it easy to lift the bucket 
of water. There are scenes of shadoufs on ancient tomb wall paintings, 
and when Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798, his artists depicted the 
shadoufs in action. At first it seems reasonable that this water-lifting 
device could be converted to lifting blocks of stone up the Pyramid, 
but in reality this idea had insurmountable problems. 

Two-ton blocks would require very substantial wood poles and there 

Napoleon’s artists sketched the shadoufs the 
Egyptians used to raise water from the Nile. 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

simply was not that much heavy wood in Egypt. Hundreds of shadoufs 
working constantly would have been needed. Also, there was no room 
to position the shadoufs. Many levels of the Pyramid are built of rela- 
tively small blocks with ledges only about two-feet wide, certainly not 
enough room for a shadouf. So the idea of levers simply will not work 
for so many heavy blocks. But Herodotus mentions another possibility. 

He says that for ten years the people of Egypt were forced to build 
the road on which the stones were dragged and comments, “the making 
of the road was to my thinking a task but a little lighter than the build- 
ing of the Pyramid.” Although it is not certain that Herodotus is talk- 
ing about a ramp, a later writer of antiquity, Diodorus of Sicily, is quite 

Writing about three hundred years after Herodotus, Diodorus says 
“the construction was effected by means of mounds, since cranes had 
not yet been invented at that time.” 44 This is the earliest mention of the 
ramp theory and started a controversy that would last for 2,000 years. 
Did Hemienu use a ramp for the very top of the Pyramid? We are not 
sure. Diodorus acknowledged that in his time only sand surrounded 
the Pyramid, with no trace of the mound. Where did this massive con- 
struction go? 

We know for certain that the ancient Egyptians used ramps for 
some of their buildings. You can even see one being used if you visit 
the tomb of an Egyptian named Rechmire, who lived during the 18th 
Dynasty, more than a thousand years after the Great Pyramid was built. 
Rechmire was at the top of the food chain — the vizier of Egypt, our 
equivalent of a prime minister. As the highest official in the land, he 
was responsible for all sorts of things, from administering justice to 
overseeing the budgets of various building projects. Naturally, as the 
vizier, he had a large and beautiful tomb whose walls are decorated 
with scenes and events from his career. One wall is all hieroglyphs, 
proclaiming Rechmire ’s biography and duties. Clearly impressed with 
his office, one line states, “Let no man judge the vizier in his house.” 
Rechmire wasn’t just beyond the law, he was the law. 45 But it wasn’t all 
work for Rechmire. One wall of his tomb is covered with beautiful 
paintings of him hosting a banquet. The ladies, assisted by servant girls, 
are putting on makeup, people are eating and drinking — clearly Rech- 
mire knew how to entertain. 

On the wall opposite the banquet scene, various building projects 

Hemienu’s Solution 


that Rechmire oversaw are depicted. Several sculptors are completing 
a sphinx, while another group of workers polish a block of stone. The 
technique for finishing a block was quite simple. On the wall we see 
two men stretching a cord on the diagonal of the block. If part of the 
block isn’t smooth and protrudes a bit more than the rest of the block, 
it will cause a bulge in the string. That’s a spot that has to be polished 
down. Amid all this activity, a building is being erected and to reach 
the top the workers have constructed a ramp. Interestingly, the ramp is 
not made of uniform material, such as bricks. It seems to be brick with 
some rubble as filler. 46 On the bottom of the ramp what looks like a 
roofing slab is being brought up the ramp to place on top of the walls, 
which are shown in profile to the right. This ancient representation of 
a ramp is important, but we can do even better. On the opposite side of 
the Nile from Rechmire ’s tomb, at Karnak Temple, is an actual ramp. 

A vast complex of temples built over a period of 2,000 years with 
each pharaoh adding his monument, Karnak covers 300 acres. In front 
of each temple stood a pylon — a giant gateway, usually carved and 
painted with scenes of the victorious pharaoh smiting his foreign ene- 
mies. The last pylon built at Karnak was constructed in Egypt’s decline 
and was never completed. Even so, it is a huge, impressive mass, nearly 
100 feet high and fifteen feet thick, built out of stone blocks. Obvi- 
ously, some of the blocks had to be raised to the very top of the wall, 
but here there is no doubt how it was done. The ramp is still in place 
where 2,000 years ago the workmen put down their tools and never 
returned. Now eroded and only about thirty feet high, the ramp once 
reached to the top. From what remains we can see it was constructed of 
several parallel mud brick walls, and the spaces between the walls were 
filled in with rubble just like the representation on Rechmire’s tomb 
wall. It is not difficult to use a ramp to build a 100-foot pylon, but 

Egyptian tomb painting of a ramp being used in construction. 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

when you consider building a 480-foot pyramid with a ramp, compli- 
cations arise very quickly. 

There are actually two competing theories of how ramps were 
used to build the Pyramid, and deep down Egyptologists know that 
both have fatal flaws. The more popular of the two, the external ramp 
theory, is the easier to imagine. One long ramp on one side of the 
Pyramid was the highway on which the blocks moved toward the top. 
As we mentioned earlier, the problem is that there is a limit to how 
steep the ramp can be and still permit two-and-a-half-ton blocks to be 
hauled up by workers. Think about how you feel when walking up a 
steep hill in a city, the kind that takes something out of you, perhaps 
leaving you winded at the top. Now imagine having to haul not just 
yourself but a block of stone behind you. That was Hemienu’s problem. 
The hill (ramp) couldn’t be very steep, about an 8 percent grade, or 
else the blocks couldn’t be hauled up. In order to have a gentle grade 
but still reach the top of the 480-foot pyramid, the ramp has to be 
about a mile long. That’s right: as long as fifteen football fields strung 
together lengthwise. The volume of earth and stone needed for such a 
huge ramp is just about equal to the volume of the Pyramid itself! So to 
build the Pyramid using a single external ramp, you don’t just build the 
Pyramid, you also have to build a second structure just as large. That’s 
a lot of man-hours. 

Then there is the question of where on the Giza Plateau you can 
put a mile -long ramp. The plateau is just that, a plateau, and drops 
precipitously to the desert below on the north side. On both the 
east and west sides are cemeteries for the nobility that were built as 
the Pyramid was constructed, so that leaves only one side as a possi- 
bility — the south side, the only place a mile-long ramp could have 
been built. However, no remains of such a large ramp have ever been 
found. A couple of million tons of stone and earth don’t just disap- 
pear. Although the single ramp theory is the most popular explana- 
tion of how the Great Pyramid was built, it just doesn’t seem to work. 
Time for Plan B, the corkscrew ramp. 

To understand the second theory, we have to think in terms of a 
road that winds up the side of a mountain. If the road went in a straight 
line, from the bottom up to the top, it would be too steep even for cars. 
To make the slope gentler, the engineers wrap it around the moun- 
tain. It’s longer, but a lot less steep. This is exactly what has been sug- 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

gested for the Great Pyramid: that corkscrewing up the Pyramid, like 
a mountain road, was a ramp on which the blocks were raised. The 
virtue of this theory is that we don’t need a ramp stretching a mile 
beyond the Pyramid. The theory also explains why the remains of a 
giant ramp haven’t been found — the Pyramid itself was the ramp. It all 
sounds so good, but Plan B also has a fatal flaw, one that only a builder 
would notice. 

As the Pyramid rose year after year, the angle of incline had to be 
carefully monitored. With a structure as large as the Great Pyramid, 
if you are off by an inch at the bottom, by the time you reach the top 
you could be off by yards and the Pyramid’s four edges won’t meet at 
a point. Thus, as the Pyramid rose, surveyors had to make repeated 
measurements along the edges of the Pyramid to make sure the angle 
was constant. If, however, there were a ramp corkscrewing around the 
Pyramid, the sight lines along the edges would have been obscured and 
Hemienu couldn’t have watched the angle as carefully as he needed to. 
So Hemienu did not use the corkscrew method. Whatever solution He- 
mienu found, it wasn’t what people have proposed. Four thousand five 
hundred years after Hemienu figured out how to raise the blocks to the 
top of the Pyramid, a French engineer was closing in on the solution. 

First Plans 

Paris, 1999 

S oon after watching the television show on the Great Pyramid, 
Henri Houdin sprang into action, putting his new idea that the 
Pyramid was built front the inside out onto paper. He was an en- 
gineer and began by imagining what he would do if he were awarded 
the contract to build Khufu’s Pyramid. For the first time in 4,500 
years, a builder was thinking like Hemienu. What materials would he 
use? How would he bring them to the construction site? How do you 
move the stones into place high up on the Pyramid? Soon graph paper, 
pencils, and T-squares were out and he was drawing plans, all the time 
trying to think like an engineer in ancient Egypt. 

Now that he was retired, Henri could devote himself full-time to 
his new project. As an engineer, he knew that both the single external 
ramp and the external corkscrew ramp that he had seen on the televi- 
sion show were impractical. There had to be another solution. Then 
it came to him — build the ramp inside the Pyramid! With an internal 
ramp, the blocks could be brought up the Pyramid without obscuring 
sight lines, and as the Pyramid grew, so did the ramp. But what would 
such ramp look like? 

Henri Houdin’s first drawing of the internal ramp is dated January 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

4, 1999. It shows a single ramp looking very much like a spiral staircase. 
In the upper right-hand corner of the plan is the notation “ramp with 
8 percent slope.” Connected to the top and right sides of the ramp are 
a series of parallel lines — ventilation ducts so the workers would have 
fresh air as they hauled the blocks up the internal ramp. But then Henri 
thought a single ramp would not be sufficient. 

By January 24, a second plan had been drawn and it shows four 
ramps winding through the Pyramid. There are four separate entrances 
for the four separate ramps, each reaching a different level of the Pyra- 
mid. Henri thought he had solved the internal ramp problem. He was 
far from the solution, but he had taken the first big step forward. 

Through the cold Paris winter Henri refined his drawings, trying 
all the time to think like an Egyptian. It didn’t always work. At first he 
imagined the blocks pulled on wheeled carts. It seems perfectly reason- 
able, except that the Egyptians used sleds; wheels sink into sand. There 
were other false starts, but by the end of the summer he was confi- 
dent enough to try out the theory in public. In October of 1999 Henri 
Houdin published a brief article on his internal ramp theory in the 
journal of the French National Society of Engineers and Scientists. 47 
He had discussed the article with his architect son and added Jean- 
Pierre’s name as coauthor, but the architect knew there were some seri- 
ous problems with the plans his father had drawn. Henri’s idea that the 
inside, not the outside, determined how the Pyramid was built was bril- 
liant, and the concept of an internal ramp was a quantum leap forward. 
Sometimes in science The Big Idea comes from an outsider, someone 
who hasn’t been indoctrinated about what is possible and what isn’t. 
Henri was that outsider. Knowing practically nothing about ancient 
Egypt, he was free of preconceptions about how the pyramids had been 
built. The father and son talked about the Great Pyramid every time 
they met. For Jean-Pierre it was just an interesting avocation his father 
had taken up, something to keep a retired engineer’s mind sharp. Soon 
he was teaching his seventy-five -year-old father how to use the latest 
computer software to improve his drawings. But as Jean-Pierre looked 
over his father’s drawings, he knew certain aspects couldn’t work. 

First, you can’t pull heavy blocks of stone up a circular ramp. For ef- 
ficient pulling you must move in straight lines; you can’t be turning all 
the time. The second problem was that many blocks inside the Pyramid 
weigh more than sixty tons. To pull a sixty-ton block up an 8 percent 

Henri Houdin’s first drawing of the internal ramp dated January 4, 1999. Ventilation shafts for 
the workers are indicated. 

k'lbofs. y/et/% 



Auteui (%J 

Stxivxau (JT) 


Henri’s revised drawing with four internal ramps. 

First Plans 


slope would require hundreds of men, and you simply can’t get that 
many men inside an enclosed ramp. Therefore Henri’s internal ramp 
couldn’t be circular and the largest blocks couldn’t be pulled through 
any kind of internal ramp. Jean-Pierre was becoming intrigued. This 
was a problem he would tackle, but unlike his father, he didn’t use 
pencil and paper. 

The first step was to learn more about the Pyramid. With his ar- 
chitectural background, Jean-Pierre quickly absorbed the information 
presented in the standard works on the Pyramid, but soon realized 
that even the experts were lacking an essential component to solving 
the mystery. All the plans were drawn two-dimensionally. They all 
showed the Pyramid’s basic components: underground burial cham- 
ber, Queen’s Chamber, King’s Chamber, and Grand Gallery, but only 
on one plane, a cross section. How were these rooms related to one 
another in three dimensions? Buildings are designed in three dimen- 
sions. All the pyramid experts trying to figure out how it was built 
were looking at flat, two-dimensional plans. Jean-Pierre was about to 
become the first person since Hemienu to fully understand the interior 
of the Great Pyramid in three dimensions. 

During his sabbatical year, Jean-Pierre had obtained some of the 
necessary computer skills he would need to tackle the mystery of the 
Great Pyramid. Now he went one step further. Using software recently 
developed for architects, he began to build computer simulations of 

The standard two-dimensional diagram 
of the Great Pyramid. Three dimensions 
were needed to solve the problem. 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

the Pyramid. Even with the new software, re-creating the interior 
chambers of the Great Pyramid in three dimensions was incredibly 
time-consuming. Each wall had to be built line by line to the exact 
proportions of the Pyramid. In his Paris apartment, Jean-Pierre spent 
first hundreds and then thousands of hours at his computer creating the 
most detailed three-dimensional renderings of the interior of the Great 
Pyramid ever. When the models were complete, he could select any 
internal chamber, rotate it on his computer screen in any direction, see 
how the chamber related to all the others, and begin to understand the 
Pyramid’s internal secrets. But this was just a start. 

The next step was to imagine what Hemienu must have seen as he 
was building the Pyramid. Jean-Pierre created 3-D representations of 
the Pyramid for each year of construction. Now he could actually see 
the problems that had to be solved as the Pyramid rose above the Giza 
Plateau. It was clear that when the Pyramid had reached the height of 
the King’s Chamber, something other than the external ramp had to be 
used to raise the blocks for the upper part of the Pyramid — but what 
did the something else look like? 

Jean-Pierre had now created more than a thousand computer simu- 
lations of the Great Pyramid and an image of what the internal ramp 
had to look like began to take shape in his mind. He always knew that 
it had to be straight, not circular, as his father had drawn it, but that 
still left the problem of turning corners. Moving blocks in a straight 
line through the interior ramp was relatively easy — eight or so men 
pulling a block on a sled, but you need lots of room to turn a corner 
when you are hauling a large block because the men pulling need a 
place to stand. So, to allow room for turning the blocks, at the end of 
each straight flight of the ramp, a large space was left open at the corner 
of the Pyramid. To actually turn the corner, the workmen could have 
employed something like a shadouf, used up until recent times to lift 
water from the Nile for irrigation. This ancient crane could have been 
what Herodotus meant when he said the Egyptians used “machines” to 
build the Pyramid. The block could be lifted, rotated 90 degrees into 
position for hauling up the next flight of the ramp. Thus notches were 
left open at every corner — that would also have provided fresh air for 
the men working inside the ramp. 

Designing the path and size of the ramp was a complex problem. It 
had to be wide enough for the blocks and men but couldn’t be so wide 



The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

that its construction created engineering problems. Further, the path of 
the ramp had to be designed so it didn’t intersect with the Pyramid’s 
other passageways and chambers. 

Jean-Pierre calculated that the ramp was about five cubits wide (nine 
feet) with corbelled walls reaching a height of fifteen feet. The corbel- 
ling ensured that the weight of the Pyramid above it wouldn’t crush the 
ceiling. At its start near the bottom of the Pyramid, the ramp sloped at 
about 7 percent and ran straight until it neared the end of one side the 
Pyramid. Then it made a left turn and continued up the next side at the 
same 7 percent slope; then another left turn, up the next side and so on 
up the Pyramid. The Pyramid narrows as its height increases, so the 
flights of the ramp get shorter and shorter as it corkscrews through the 
Pyramid. The first straight stretch at the bottom was 575 feet long, but 
after the internal ramp had made fourteen turns and was higher up in 
the Pyramid, it would be only 150 feet long. In all, the twists and turns 
wind through the Pyramid for more than a mile. 

Jean-Pierre now had 
worked out the basics of his 
theory of how the Great Pyra- 
mid had been built. In a sense 
three methods had been used. 
1) The blocks on the lower 
levels of the Pyramid were 
brought up on the short exter- 
nal ramp. 2) The largest gran- 
ite blocks used for the King’s 
Chamber also came up on 
the external ramp, but with 
the help of a counterweight 
system inside the Grand Gal- 
lery. 3) The smaller blocks on 
the upper levels of the Pyra- 
mid were brought up via an 
internal ramp. The theory was revolutionary, but it seemed to solve all 
the problems other theories had left unresolved. Still, it was just a theory, 
and with no physical evidence to support it, it would remain just another 
theory. The Houdins desperately needed hard evidence to support the 
theory. When it came, it was from a most unexpected source. 

The internal ramp was designed so it would not 
intersect with any passageways or chambers. 

Anomaly Rising 

Paris, August 2000 

I n the summer of 2000 Henri Houdin visited the French company 
that had conducted the microgravimetric study of the Great Pyra- 
mid in 1986, but fourteen years later not everyone who had been 
on the team was still with the company. Henri met with Pierre Deletie, 
the company’s geologist. When he showed Deletie Jean-Pierre’s draw- 
ings of what the internal ramp must look like, Deletie was amazed. 
It looked remarkably like an anomaly his team detected that had re- 
mained in the files for fourteen years. He promised to look for the 
printout and give Henri a copy. 

True to his word, Mr. Deletie sent the printout of the anomaly to 
Henri. Henri was astounded. It was as if someone had photographed 
their theory. Spiraling up the Pyramid was the internal ramp! Henri 
excitedly called Jean-Pierre, who rushed over to see what was so amaz- 
ing. As soon as he saw it, he knew that he had found the big idea he was 
looking for. The internal ramp was too important to give up. He had 
to develop the theory a far as it could go, fill in even more details, and 
most important, see if more evidence could be found to support it. 

Seeing how important this was to the Houdins, Deletie suggested 
they talk with Hui Duong Bui, the man responsible for the calcula- 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

The first empirical evidence for the internal ramp was this 1 986 computer-generated image of 
low-density areas within the Great Pyramid. They look remarkably like the internal ramp. 

tions that produced the image. A week later, Henri and Bui were deep 
in conversation about the Great Pyramid of Giza. Bui explained that 
they hadn’t totally ignored the anomaly; they just didn’t know what to 
make of it. The team’s leading theory was that they were picking up 
ancient traces of a ramp that once corkscrewed up the outside of the 
Pyramid. Perhaps somehow all the hauling had compressed the area, 
making it denser. Deep down they knew this couldn’t be right, but it 
was the best explanation they could come up with at the time. Once 
Bui heard the details of the internal ramp theory, he was a convert. An 
internal ramp spiraling upward through the Pyramid is the only thing 
that could cause such a printout. The internal ramp theory had its first 
hard evidence. 

Anomaly Rising 


The Houdins were incredibly encouraged to hear that the French 
had found evidence for the internal ramp without even knowing it. 
With this new ammunition, they were more positive than ever that they 
were right. Jean-Pierre returned to his computer to refine his models, 
to see if he could figure out more of the details of construction. The 
carefree days of traveling were over for a while. He wanted to stay in 
Paris to meet people to discuss and refine the theory. Michelle had seen 
the obsession coming and quickly realized how big Khufu’s Pyramid 
would be in their lives; she told Jean-Pierre, “If you want to go with 
Khufu, go straight to the end. You will have to explain everything.” 
They rented a small apartment in Paris in their old neighborhood and 
for the next year Jean-Pierre worked intensely at his computer, trying 
to understand exactly how the Grand Gallery fit into the picture with 
the internal ramp. Often he called his father to say, “You are the en- 
gineer, can you do the calculations to figure out how many men are 
needed to haul such a block of stone, how much manpower was needed 
for this task?” 

By October of 2001, the money from the sale of their apartment was 
running out. For three years Jean-Pierre and Michelle had lived on that 
sale, without any income, and now the bank account was dangerously 
low. Fortunately one of the renters in one of their studio apartments 
moved out. Without hesitation, they sold it so Jean-Pierre could con- 
tinue the Pyramid quest. During the next year, he began to complete 
details of the connection between the internal ramp and the Grand Gal- 
lery. But by the end of 2002, the money was running out once again. 
Another rental apartment became free and was sold. Jean-Pierre was 
still in the game, at least for a while. As Jean-Pierre refined his theory 
more and more, he decided to talk to the French team again to see if he 
had missed anything, or perhaps they had forgotten something. 

The Notch 

Paris, January 2003 

A t the beginning of 2003, Jean-Pierre had another meeting 
with the French Operation Kheops team that surveyed the 
Pyramid. He described the theory of the internal ramp in 
detail and mentioned the angle of incline and the notches at the cor- 
ners that had to be left open so the blocks could turn the corners. One 
of the team members, Jean-Pierre Baron, remembered something pe- 
culiar he had seen when taking measurements up and down the Pyra- 
mid. At about 275 feet up the Pyramid, on the northeast corner, was 
a notch! This was essentially where the Houdins’ theory would place 
the ramp’s ninth notch! The French team measured the notch when 
they were doing their study and mentioned that it was seven feet six 
inches on each side — a square. In ancient Egyptian terms that trans- 
lates to five cubits square, a perfect Egyptian measure. The internal 
ramp theory now had its second empirical confirmation, but there was 
more to come. 

Baron also remembered seeing a desert fox disappear into a hole 
next to the notch. Why would a fox climb 275 feet up the Pyramid to 
find a hole? Perhaps it didn’t. Perhaps it found an entrance hole to the 
ramp near the bottom and then made its way up the ramp. It would 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

be interesting to attach a telemetry device to a fox and send it through 
the hole and track its movements. Would it show the animal moving 
through the internal ramp? 

The internal ramp seemed more and more promising, but there was 
something else that Jean-Pierre had to explain. Where were the re- 
mains of the external ramp used in the early stages of the Pyramid’s 
construction? Although the ramp was used only up to about a third of 
the Pyramid’s height, it was still a huge construction using thousands 
of tons of materials, but it had vanished without a trace. Somehow the 
missing external ramp was tied to the construction of the rest of the 
Pyramid, but how? Then, all at once, it became clear; he knew where 
the ramp was. He had found the solution. Of course, Hemienu had 
beaten him to it by 4,500 years. 

A notch on the northeast corner of the Pyramid may be a remnant of one of the internal ramp’s 
corners that was left open. 

• ' . 

£ fW 




■ ■ 


The Internal Ramp 

Giza, Egypt, 2510 b.c. (Year 19 of the reign ofKhufu) 

W hen Hemienu saw the rafters above the last relieving 
chamber put in place, he had the Grand Gallery roofed 
over completely. It was no longer needed; no more huge 
granite blocks required lifting. At this point the Pyramid was 200 feet 
high and the exterior ramp that had been used for the first sixteen 
years could no longer be used. If it were raised to accommodate the 
increasing height of the Pyramid, the angle of incline would quickly 
go beyond 8 percent, too steep for men to haul blocks up. It was finally 
time for the internal ramp to serve its purpose. 

From the beginning, Hemienu knew the time would come when 
the exterior ramp could not be used. For that reason, he constructed it 
out of rough limestone blocks just like the filler blocks inside of Pyra- 
mid, only a bit smaller. Now that the exterior ramp had served its pur- 
pose, it was dismantled and the blocks with which it was constructed 
could be reused to build the rest of the Pyramid. Thousands of years 
later, archaeologists would puzzle over where the ramp had gone. The 
answer was in plain view, on top of the Pyramid. 

Once again Hemienu’s incredible planning was on display, but no 
one saw it. The top of the Great Pyramid was built from the blocks of 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

the dismantled exterior ramp. The limestone blocks that composed the 
ramp are slightly smaller than the average block used in the interior of 
the Pyramid. The blocks had to be smaller because they were going to 
be hauled through the confined space of the interior ramp. So as the 
exterior ramp was being taken down, its blocks were moving through 
the passage up to the top of the Pyramid where they were pushed into 
position. This explains why no one has found huge piles of debris from 
the ramp. 

As the Pyramid neared completion, Hemienu must have felt both 
relief and a great sense of satisfaction. Khufu was alive and well, the 
burial chamber was complete, and the blocks from the external ramp 
were now moving up through the internal ramp and being placed at 
the top of the Pyramid. In just a few years the capstone would be in 
place on the greatest monument ever built. But just as Hemienu was 
feeling as secure as he could about the project, disaster struck. The 
burial chamber’s roof beams cracked. They were small cracks, but He- 
mienu had reason to be concerned. Just forty years earlier, the walls of 
the Bent Pyramid had cracked during construction, and the pyramid 
had to be abandoned. Hemienu could not afford to abandon the Great 
Pyramid at this stage; his pharaoh was aging and there was no time to 
build a second pyramid. 

He needed to know what was going on above the ceiling. Were 
other parts of the Pyramid cracking? At the top of the Grand Gallery 
he had his stonemasons chisel a small thirty-inch tunnel through the 
limestone so he could enter the relieving chamber above the ceiling of 
the King’s Chamber. As he crawled through the tunnel he had no idea 
of what he would find. Had the second relieving chamber come crash- 
ing down into the first? He crawled into the pitch-black little chamber 
and moved his oil lamp around. No disaster. 

The floor of the relieving chamber consists of the tops of the ceil- 
ing beams and Hemienu could now examine the cracks from both sides 
of the beams. It didn’t look serious, but it could get worse. He had 
workmen plaster the cracks on the beams. This was not to stabilize the 
beams; plaster won’t do that. Rather, the plaster would tell him if the 
cracks got larger as the Pyramid was completed and more and more 
blocks were piled above. Hemienu’s technique is similar to what archae- 
ologists do today to tell if monuments are stable. If there is a crack in 
the wall, something looking like a plaster Band-Aid is placed across the 

Plaster strips on the cracks in the King’s Chamber help Egyptologists detect if the cracks get 

The Internal Ramp 


crack. If the wall moves, the crack enlarges, the plaster cracks, and the 
archaeologist knows he has a problem. Hemienu’s roof beams held, and 
although the ceilings of two of the relieving chambers above cracked, 
the plaster didn’t move, so he never had to cut a second tunnel going up 
into the second relieving chamber to check on those beams. 

Giza, Egypt, 2569 B.c. (Year 20 in the reign ofKhufu) 

B y Year 20 of Khufu’s reign, the Pyramid was nearing completion. 

It had reached a height of 360 feet and 98 percent of the volume — 
2,550,000 cubic meters — was in place, but there were still about 130 
feet to complete. With the end so near, changes in the internal ramp 
were necessary. The area on top of the Pyramid was getting quite small. 
At this point the straightaways of the ramp were only 125 feet long and 
as they approached the top they decreased to only eighty feet. To avoid 
running into the corner notch below it, the angle of the ramp had to 
be increased considerably. It was more difficult to pull the blocks up 
the steeper incline, but with a small block, weighing only half a ton, 
this was still possible. However, the internal ramp was nearing the end 
of its usefulness. By the time it reached the 400-foot level, the angle of 
incline was 20 percent and almost all the energy of the men hauling 
would have gone into just raising their own bodies up the ramp. 

There is a mechanical trick that the haulers could have used. If they 
stood on level ground at the notch ahead of the block and pulled, then 
none of their energy would go toward raising their body weights. This 
is the kind of technique Hemienu would almost certainly have learned 
from the previous century of building in stone. 

At the top of the Pyramid, the internal 
ramp’s angle of incline had to be 
increased to avoid hitting the notches 
at the corners below it. 

The workers may have stood on level ground to pull the blocks up, thus saving the energy of 
having to raise their own weight. 


Along with the three pharaohs’ pyramids 
at Giza are several smaller ones for their 


The pharaoh Sneferu built three huge 
pyramids and developed the techniques for 
building an internal room in pyramids. His is 
the first instance of a king’s name depicted 
in a cartouche. 


Entrance to the Step Pyramid of Saqqara, 
the first pyramid in history. 

The staircase at the Ptolemaic temple of Dendera may be a descendant of the internal ramp 
inside the Great Pyramid. 

The sphinx has the head of King 
Kephren and the body of a lion. 

The fallen statue of Ramses the Great at his mortuary temple, the Ramesseum, weighed nearly 

1 ,000 tons. 

The Osirion at Abydos was a cenotaph — a false burial — for Osiris, God of the Dead. 

The authors planning their Egyptian itinerary. Jean-Pierre Houdin is in black. 

Karnak Temple was built by a succession of pharaohs over a period of more than 1 ,000 years. 

The Capstone 

T he last major engineering task was the positioning of the cap- 
stone, basically a small pyramid, on the very top of the Pyramid. 
The pyramidion, as it is called, was made of fine limestone and 
probably covered with electrum, an alloy of gold and silver, and might 
have weighed as much as fifteen tons. 48 We don’t know the details of 
how it was raised, but it certainly would have required advance plan- 
ning because it is too large to be moved through the cramped internal 
ramp. After weeks on the computer, Jean-Pierre figured out a possible 
scenario for the capstone’s movements. 

During the fourteenth year of Khufu’s reign, the pyramidion and 
the beams and rafters for the King’s Chamber were pulled up the ex- 
terior ramp to the top of the Pyramid, which was now 150 feet high. 
For the next five years the capstone moved upward, course by course, 
as the Pyramid was being built. It could have been suspended in a 
wooden pyramid-shaped cradle. The ropes holding the capstone could 
be twisted, much the same way children twist the chains supporting 
swings. As the ropes twisted, they shortened, and the capstone was 
raised a bit. Wedges were slid under the capstone, and using wedges, 
the cradle was raised the same height. Now the process was repeated 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

with the capstone moving slowly upward. This device is called a Span- 
ish winch. 49 When the capstone had been raised to the full height of 
one course of the Pyramid, normal pyramid blocks were placed under 
it and the Pyramid course was completed around it. This process con- 
tinued for five years and more than 100 courses until the capstone was 
near the top of the Pyramid. At this point working space was very 
small and special scaffolding was needed to lever and position the pyra- 
midion 480 feet above the Giza Plateau. It was now Year 20 of Khufu’s 
reign and the Pyramid was nearly complete. 

During the next few years, the finishing touches are added to the 
Pyramid. The last fine casing blocks are put in place at the top. The 
notches left open at the corners of the internal ramp are filled in from 
the top down with blocks brought through the internal ramp and the 
ramp is now sealed inside the Pyramid. The last remains of the external 
ramp and the internal ramp’s small exterior access ramp are removed 
and all traces of Hemienu’s construction techniques vanish. Khufu’s 
burial place is ready for eternity. Hemienu has done it. With the excep- 
tion of the cracks in the King’s Chamber, we know of no other close 

The Capstone 

14 7 

call endangering the completion of the Pyramid. There was no way 
that Hemienu could have ever figured out what caused the cracks. The 
answer to that was buried deep inside the Pyramid. 

The hole that Hemienu had his men make so he could enter the re- 
lieving chamber would not be discovered until 1764, when an English- 
man vacationing in Egypt decided to explore the Pyramid. Nathaniel 
Davison was visiting Egypt with his friend Edward Montagu, Eng- 
land’s former consul to Cairo, and thought it might be entertaining to 
search the Pyramid for hidden treasure. After unsuccessfully searching 
the lower portions of the Pyramid, he turned his attention to the mys- 
terious Grand Gallery. At the upper end of the Gallery, he heard echoes 
of his own voice and deduced that there must be an opening leading 
to a chamber. Placing a lit candle on the end of a long pole, he probed 
the darkest recesses of the Gallery and discovered the hole Hemienu 
had made forty-five centuries earlier. Lashing seven ladders together to 
reach the opening, he had to clear out more than a foot of bat guano 
before he could squeeze through the hole. There was, of course, no 
treasure, only the stifling smell of bats. He left the relieving chamber 

The Capstone 


with no material rewards, but the chamber is still known today as Da- 
vison’s Chamber. 

During the following decades adventurers would squeeze through 
the hole, but none went farther than Davison’s Chamber until Colonel 
Howard Vyse appeared on the scene in 1836. Vyse was wealthy enough 
to hire John Perring, a civil engineer, to assist his investigation. 50 They 
set up living quarters in a nearby tomb and conducted the most thor- 
ough examination of the Pyramid up to that time. Vyse’s workmen 
cleared the Sphinx, which was covered up to its neck in sand, dug up 
the flooring of the Queen’s Chamber, and searched the Pyramid for 
hidden rooms. 51 

When they investigated Davison’s Chamber, they spotted a crack 
in one of the granite roof beams above them and pushed a three-foot- 
long reed through the crack, concluding that there must be a chamber 
above. Soon Vyse’s Arab workmen were chipping away at the granite 
above them. When the granite proved too hard for them, Vyse sent for 
experienced masons from the Tura quarry across the river. The quarry- 
men, however, were used to soft limestone and the granite proved too 
difficult for them, also. Plan C was gunpowder. 

A workman named Daoud, sent in to do the dangerous and dirty 
work, eventually succeeded in blasting a hole through a corner of one 
of the huge beams forming the ceiling above Davison’s Chamber. In the 
second relieving chamber they found the floor covered with millions 
of exoskeletons shed by insects that had bred in the chamber, prob- 
ably soon after it was sealed. Vyse patriotically named the new chamber 
after Admiral Horatio Nelson, who had sunk Bonaparte’s fleet at the 
battle of the Nile in 1798. 

Daoud continued blasting his way upward and discovered the third 
relieving chamber, which Vyse named after another of Napoleon’s de- 
featers, the Duke of Wellington. Like the others, Wellington’s Cham- 
ber was empty, so Vyse and his workers continued the difficult process 
of blasting upward. They were rightly afraid of causing a total col- 
lapse of the relieving chamber above them, and when Daoud did set 
off a charge, he had to watch out for flying granite chips. Reaching 
the fourth of the relieving chambers, they switched from naming them 
after British heroes, and named this one after Lady Arbuthnot, who had 
visited the Pyramid on May 9, 1837, just after the chamber was discov- 
ered. At this point Vyse must have been wondering when the succes- 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

sion of relieving chambers would end. Finally, Daoud blasted through 
to the fifth and last relieving chamber, revealing the huge limestone 
rafters that Hemienu had set so precisely in place forty-five centuries 
ago. They named this chamber after England’s consul to Cairo, Colo- 
nel Campbell. 

Vyse didn’t find any treasures, but he discovered four relieving 
chambers not seen since Hemienu constructed them. In addition, he 
copied the workmen’s ancient graffiti on the walls of the chambers 
and sent it to Dr. Samuel Birch, Keeper of Antiquities at the British 
Museum and one of the few scholars who could translate ancient Egyp- 
tian. Birch was able to read the cartouches containing Khufu’s name, 
conclusively establishing that the Pyramid did, indeed, belong to King 
Khufu. Vyse was also the first to notice the cracks in the beams of 
the second relieving chamber, but he had no idea when they cracked 
or why. That discovery would come much later, when Jean-Pierre ac- 
quired a new computer program and a very powerful friend. 

The Difficult Years 

J ust as Jean-Pierre and his father were nearing the solution to how 
the internal ramp and Grand Gallery worked together in the con- 
struction of the Great Pyramid, personal tragedy struck for both. 
Jean-Pierre’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Over the 
next few years as Renee Houdin spiraled inevitably downward, Henri 
was tethered to his house in the countryside taking care of his wife. 
Project Khufu became his lifeline with the outside world, helping him 
through the dark years. Every morning and every evening for years, 
Jean-Pierre would call to give news of the project and to get news 
about his mother. When her death finally came, Henri had lost thirty 
pounds and was a broken man, but with Jean-Pierre’s encouragement, 
he began to reconnect with the outside world. He was needed; Project 
Khufu was in trouble. 

Michelle and Jean-Pierre were living in a minuscule studio apart- 
ment of only 236 square feet with a bed that folded out of a false closet. 
Michelle edited her experimental videos at one end of the only table 
while at the other end Jean-Pierre worked on the Pyramid project. Jean- 
Pierre assured Michelle, “Don’t worry. We will only be living here for a 
few weeks.” (They stayed four years.) They had calculated that with no 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

traveling, they could hold out for nearly a year. The theory was almost 
complete. Jean-Pierre had concluded that the counterweight system in 
the Grand Gallery was used to bring the granite ceiling beams up the 
external ramp and also that the top of the Pyramid was built from the 
blocks used to construct the external ramp. Many other details were 
also in place, but without outside help they would soon have to give up 
the project. 

Jean-Pierre knew that he needed the support of the Egyptologi- 
cal community. For him, the United States was a place where new 
starts were made, new ideas were welcomed, so he took the directory 
of American Egyptologists and began sending e-mails. One, Jack Jo- 
sephson, wrote that he should contact an Egyptologist whose name was 
Bob Brier. That led to dinner at my place and the subsequent meeting 
with Dieter Arnold. But Egyptological moral support was one thing; 
Jean-Pierre desperately needed something more substantial. 

Jean-Pierre began giving talks to professional engineering groups, 
both to see how the theory would be received and in the hopes of 
finding a sponsor. The responses to the theory were overwhelmingly 
positive. Professional engineers and architects were impressed. The first 
firm to offer assistance was the Thales Group, a high-tech radar com- 
pany that was developing a new kind of radar that might be used to 
detect the internal ramp inside the Great Pyramid. In preparation for 
a test, they began testing their equipment on Coucy Castle, a thir- 
teenth-century limestone fortress sixty miles north of Paris. If a hidden 
4,500-year-old internal ramp was going to be discovered, they wanted 
to make sure it was with their equipment. Their technical expertise 
was extremely welcome, but financial support was going to be needed 
to keep Project Khufu afloat. 

Jean-Pierre’s brother, Bernard, arranged a meeting with Eiffel, an 
engineering firm with a pyramid connection — they built the glass 
pyramid in front of the Louvre in Paris. Jean-Pierre presented the in- 
ternal ramp theory to a small group of their engineers and executives. 
It seemed to go very well, but he couldn’t be sure. The next day he 
received an e-mail from one of the senior engineers. “I think you are 
at the beginning of a discovery far more important than King Tut’s 
tomb.” Eiffel was keen to support the project and was transferring 
25,000 euros to the project’s war chest. A very encouraging first step; 
the ball was beginning to roll. 

The Difficult Years 


Bernard was able to arrange another meeting for Jean-Pierre, this 
time with the Air France’s public relations manager for Africa and the 
Middle East. After six months of phone tag, the meeting finally took 
place and Jean-Pierre, laptop in hand, explained his theory over lunch. 
At the end, Mr. Brousse, the manager simply said, “Welcome on board, 
dear partner!” Air France couldn’t give money but they would fly Jean- 
Pierre for free anywhere he had to go for Project Khufu. Now he could 
reduce expenses and wouldn’t have to pay for trips to New York and 
Cairo. Jean-Pierre had finally started visiting the Pyramid! 

Soon other sponsors came on board. Everyone wanted to be part 
of the discovery. French and Egyptian companies contributed cash to 
a war chest that now held 100,000 euros. Project Khufu was finally on 
firm ground and the solitary architect in black was no longer alone. 
With sponsorship came recognition. On May 18, 2005, Jean-Pierre was 
again giving a lecture in Paris about his work on the Great Pyramid, 
but not to raise funds. He was receiving the Montgolfier Prize, a reward 
given by SEIN (Societe d ’Encouragement pour Flndustrie Nationale), 
a foundation set up by Napoleon in 1802 to encourage national indus- 
try. Jean-Pierre received the medal for his contributions to architecture 
and beaux-arts. Jean-Pierre ’s proud father joined him onstage to share 
the award. When Henri Houdin said, “I have a 5 percent share in the 
story and Jean-Pierre 95 percent,” Jean-Pierre replied, “I would never 
have had the 95 percent without that first 5 percent.” Sponsorship and 
recognition had finally come. And the greatest boost to Project Khufu 
was just around the corner. 

The Internal Ramp Goes Public 

Paris, June 3, 2005 

I n academia, ideas are constantly being tested, first at conferences 
and later by publication. This is when you really know if what you 
are proposing works. Because Jean-Pierre is an architect, not an 
academic, his ideas didn’t take this route. One of the first things I no- 
ticed when he gave me some of his writings to read is that there were 
no references. Normally when you tackle a problem, you survey the 
literature, read everything on the subject you can find, and list your 
sources. You don’t want to reinvent the wheel. Jean-Pierre just sat 
down at the computer and started working, which put him at a disad- 
vantage. He had not published the details of his theory nor had he had 
serious discussions with those qualified to evaluate the theory . 52 Some 
of his earlier informal talks to engineers had created a buzz about the 
theory and now his father’s professional organization, the Societe des 
Ingenieurs des Arts et Metiers, wanted Jean-Pierre to give a talk. It 
was the perfect chance to test the waters. The civil engineers would 
give him needed feedback on the theory but they would be a friendly 

The hour lecture went well. There were some questions about 
details, but no one had any serious objections to the theory, or at 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

least they didn’t mention any. In the audience was the former man- 
ager of Peugeot/Citroen who had been in charge of digital designing 
and manufacturing. He understood how heroic Jean-Pierre’s solitary 
effort at digitally reconstructing the Great Pyramid was, and he was 
equally impressed with the theory itself. He thought it was correct. 
He was familiar with Dassault Systemes’ software and thought that if 
Jean-Pierre had access to their programs he could take his simulations 
to another level. Dassault Group is a multibillion-dollar corporation 
founded by Marcel Dassault, father of the famous the Mirage jet. One 
of their divisions, Dassault Systemes, designs 3-D engineering soft- 
ware. Without telling Jean-Pierre, he called Dassault Systemes and 
told them about this obsessed genius in a studio apartment in Paris 
who seemed to have solved the riddle of the Great Pyramid on his 

Two weeks after his lecture, Jean-Pierre left Paris for Cairo. As he 
sat having a drink in the garden of his hotel, his phone rang. Rich- 
ard Breitner from Dassault Systemes wanted to talk to him about his 
theory. At first Jean-Pierre was worried because the cost of the call 
could be charged to his cell phone, but after a minute talking with 
Breitner, he knew the conversation would be worth the cost. Das- 
sault Systemes had a new program called Passion for Innovation through 
which they sponsor a scientist who is thinking outside the box and 
who does not have access to the usual support systems supplied by 
universities or corporations. The two men agreed to meet as soon as 
Jean-Pierre was back in Paris. 

Paris, June 30, 2005 

O n a warm sunny June afternoon, Jean-Pierre had his first meeting 
with Richard Breitner. A forty-year-old engineer with an intense 
interest in computer graphics, Breitner was in charge of Dassault corpo- 
rate systems. From the beginning they knew it would be a perfect mar- 
riage. Richard had been interested in ancient Egypt and hieroglyphs 
since he was a boy and he even dressed in black! With Richard was 
Mehdi Tayoubi, marketing director for the company. Mehdi was about 
thirty, a champion of what could be done with 3-D software, but his 

The Internal Ramp Goes Public 


role would be quite different from Richard’s. Richard was a high-level 
technical person; Mehdi was responsible for getting the word out about 
Dassault Systemes’ new innovations. 

Jean-Pierre did his laptop presentation, but unlike the show in my 
apartment two years earlier, the audience understood everything Jean- 
Pierre was talking about. After a few hours, they were hooked. They 
immediately agreed to work together, the only question was how. 
Mehdi and Richard felt the Great Pyramid was interesting to everyone 
and would be the perfect showcase for Dassault Systemes to strut its 
stuff. As the three talked they became more and more excited. They 
would re-create the entire building of the Great Pyramid in 3-D simu- 
lation. Not only would the images present the theory, they would be 
used to validate it. Dassault Systemes often built entire virtual factories 
for its clients. The idea was to see if everything worked well together. 
Do the conveyor belts have room around them so they don’t overheat? 
Are the workspaces large enough to accommodate four mechanics 
working on an engine? Are the cables in the elevators strong enough 
to lift heavy freight? These questions can be answered in a virtual fac- 
tory, before the real one is built. This is how Jean-Pierre, Richard, and 
Mehdi intended to test the internal ramp theory. They would build the 
Pyramid, build the internal ramp, have little guys on their computer 
screen haul the blocks up, and see if it worked. Computer modeling 
was used all the time to test future constructions; now for the first time 
they would apply this technology to an ancient monument. Jean-Pierre 
now had the sponsorship and technical support he needed to take the 
theory further. He left the meeting elated. It was one of the best days 
of his life. An organization with seemingly unlimited resources under- 
stood and appreciated what he was doing and was going to adopt him. 
The first thing he did was call his father. 

Project Khufu began in earnest in September. Jean-Pierre was sent 
to Dassault Systemes’ software school for a crash course in CATIA, their 
flagship 3-D software. As Jean-Pierre was learning new computer skills, 
teams of engineers from different departments under Richard Breitner’s 
direction began to redraw the Great Pyramid in all its glory. For more 
than a year the team worked to create the complete virtual Pyramid 
and workforce. Mehdi, Richard, and Jean-Pierre formed the “Triumvi- 
rate,” each member with his own part to play. Later, Jean-Pierre would 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

describe it as a “dream team, with no one wanting credit.” They were 
all working to transfer Jean-Pierre’s vision to a remarkable 3-D ani- 
mation. Soon it began to take form. The counterweight system in the 
Grand Gallery moved up and down on virtual log rollers, thousands of 
workers toiled in virtual quarries, pulled on virtual ropes, and carried 
virtual water for other laborers. By midyear 2006, the program was op- 
erating. There were no obvious contradictions in Jean-Pierre’s theory. 
Blocks didn’t get stuck, ropes didn’t snap, and workers didn’t collapse. 
It was a great success, but Mehdi had an even more ambitious project 
in mind. 

Mehdi was creating a new Dassault Systemes Web site and wanted 
to put the virtual Pyramid on the site for all to see, but he felt that their 
scientific re-creations weren’t the end. He wanted something more, 
something like films that people paid to see in theaters. As the team 
worked on the CATIA presentation, their company bought a small 
start-up company, Virtools, whose software was perfect for 3-D ap- 
plications. It would take nearly a year to build the Web site and lots of 
manpower, but Dassault Systemes was willing to throw whatever re- 
sources were necessary behind Jean-Pierre. As the elaborate simulations 
appeared on the computer screens everyone on the project became even 
more excited. Imagine a dozen computer wizards solving the riddle of 
the Great Pyramid by doing what they love to do, and getting paid for 
it! The re-creations were perfect for the Web site, but when Mehdi saw 
just how good they looked he decided to go even further. They would 
hold an international press conference announcing Jean-Pierre’s great 

Richard and Mehdi were used to thinking big and having the re- 
sources to achieve their vision. They discussed the idea of having Jean- 
Pierre onstage interacting with a life-size hologram of Hemienu so the 
two architects could discuss the building of the Great Pyramid. When 
the technicians were called in to create the hologram, it soon became 
clear that it wouldn’t work. Some other spectacular means of present- 
ing the theory was needed. Fortune smiled on Project Khufu when 
Mehdi heard that La Geode, Paris’s IMAX theatre, was being equipped 
with the latest equipment to project stereoscopic animations. They 
quickly agreed to rent La Geode for the press conference and show a 
3-D real-time stereoscopic animation of the Great Pyramid being built. 
A lot of problems had to be solved to show the presentation on a three- 

Men in Black: “The Triumvirate” who created the 3-D real-time simulations of the construction 
of the Great Pyramid. Jean-Pierre Houdin is in the middle with Mehdi Tayoubi on the left and 
Richard Breitner on the right. 

story-high screen, but they believed they could pull it off. An IMAX 
film costs millions of dollars to make and takes far longer than the few 
months they allowed themselves. Even more difficult, they would be 
using a technique more complex that the usual IMAX. This wouldn’t 
be a film; it would be a digital, real-time, interactive presentation, kind 
of like a video game on steroids. 

As the project neared its conclusion, the team took it to La Geode 
in the late evenings to try projecting it on the giant screen. Dozens of 
computer techies, their girlfriends, and Dassault Systemes employees 
who had heard about the project filled La Geode for all-night ses- 
sions to get the bugs out of the 3-D simulation. As the time neared 
for the press conference, they figured out how to project it. So much 
memory was required for the animations that they would have to use 
six projectors simultaneously. This wouldn’t be your ordinary press 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

As the time of the conference neared, I was asked if I could give a 
five-minute talk about the theory. Five minutes is about all my French 
could survive, but I agreed to speak. As the date of the conference 
neared, my wife Pat and I received two tickets from Air France, and on 
March 27, 2007, we were winging our way to Paris. Dassault Systemes 
had made reservations for us at the Meridien Etoile, a very nice hotel. 
Things were looking good for the conference. 

Paris, March 28, 2007 

A t six-thirty the next evening, Jean-Pierre met us in our lobby 
to take us to dinner. He was clearly elated. Finally someone ap- 
preciated what he had done. We were joined for dinner by a remark- 
able assortment of people who were interested in the project and who 
might help in the future. Two young ladies, one Egyptian and the 
other Lebanese, staged cultural events in Cairo and worldwide. Very 
bright, they spoke perfect English, French, and Arabic, and they might 
help the company and Jean-Pierre increase their image in Egypt. Also 
present was an engineer from Eiffel who built Sir Norman Foster’s 
famous high bridge, the Millau Viaduct, in southern France. He told 
us that to raise the bridge’s pillars he used methods similar to those the 
ancient Egyptians used to raise their obelisks. Peter Spry-Leverton, 
who directed a series of documentaries about Egypt, came from Eng- 
land, trying to figure out if there might be a documentary in the in- 
ternal ramp theory. Jean-Pierre’s father, whose insight started all this, 
was sitting next to an American engineer, Craig B. Smith, who wrote 
the book How the Great Pyramid Was Built and is a supporter of Jean- 
Pierre’s theory. 

The conversation was very lively, if not focused. At eight-thirty we 
boarded a bus sent by Dassault Systemes to go to La Geode for a three- 
hour rehearsal. I wondered why so long. When we arrived, there were 
about 100 techies and their girlfriends, all twentysomethings. Jean- 
Pierre came up to me, looking a bit concerned, and asked if it would 
be okay if I didn’t give the speech I was brought over to deliver; the 
program is running long. I was delighted to bow out. As the rehearsal 
began, I realized why three hours were needed. 

The Internal Ramp Goes Public 


The entire presentation was to be hosted by television personality 
Francois de Closets, the Walter Cronkite of France, who would have 
a dialogue onstage with Jean-Pierre before the film was shown. De 
Closets was the perfect choice. Eight years earlier, he hosted the tele- 
vision documentary watched by Henri Houdin that started the whole 

First, a stand-in for the CEO of Dassault Systemes read his introduc- 
tory remarks. Their various clients were all mentioned and much was 
made of the fact that architect Frank Gehry said he couldn’t have built 
the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, without their software. At 
fifteen minutes, the introductory remarks ran far too long, but that was 
just the beginning. The CEO stand-in also read a dialogue that was 
almost an hour long, and we hadn’t seen the show yet! Next the bridge 
builder showed slides of his bridge and ate up another fifteen minutes. 
Next Craig Smith had his fifteen minutes and spoke about “project 
management” and how many people would have been needed to build 
the Pyramid. 

When the next speaker stepped up, it became clear why this pro- 
gram was running so long. Everyone had been given fifteen minutes, 
which doesn’t sound like much, but no one had done the addition. 
Next Richard Breitner gave a talk on the making of the 3-D simula- 
tion — the show we haven’t seen yet. Richard showed slides of how his 
company’s software enables car manufacturers to simulate car crashes 
and save money by not having to test-crash real cars. He is passionate 
about what he does; he wanted to share everything with the audience. 

By the time we saw the presentation, it was midnight and half the 
audience was asleep. There was no soundtrack; Jean-Pierre narrated the 
virtual reality images live and his voice was not strong. He’s an archi- 
tect, not a television host. The presentation was good but it too needed 
to be shortened. As is so often the case, the technical people had fallen 
in love with their graphics and not thought much about the story line. 
There were beautiful, amazing images of blocks being pulled through 
the internal ramp, wonderful flyovers of the workers’ village, and 
dramatic images of the Grand Gallery being used as a counterweight 
system to haul up huge blocks of granite. It really was a triumph, but it 
could have been even better with a bit of editing. 

The entire program was about three hours. Jean-Pierre came up to 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

me at the end, very concerned. The press conference was a disaster 
waiting to be presented on a world stage and everyone knew it. Only 
radical surgery could save the program. At 1:00 a.m. we all piled on the 
bus to go back to the hotel. It had been a long night and everyone was 
quiet. They knew it wasn’t working. 

The next morning there was a meeting at the Dassault Systemes of- 
fices to discuss the press conference. When I arrived, Jean-Pierre told 
me that in the longest night of his life, Mehdi had decided to cut the 
program drastically. The bridge engineer was out, Craig Smith was out, 
and other cuts were being be made. This was encouraging; perhaps di- 
saster could be avoided. 

After lunch we walked back to the office for a meeting to discuss 
how to shorten the program even further. De Closets began by re- 
hearsing his dialogue with Jean-Pierre. He was very good, a real pro — 
animated, engaging, and mercifully brief. He coached Jean-Pierre to 
answer his questions succinctly. When Jean-Pierre started talking about 
“microgravimetrics,” De Closets said, “That’s a big word. Talk about 
masses, density . . .” There was hope. Richard Breitner’s “Making of 
the 3-D Animation” speech hadn’t been shortened. I suggested we 
focus on the internal ramp. I lost the battle. 

The next morning we all boarded the bus at our hotel for La Geode. 
Jean-Pierre’s brother, Bernard, and their father were on the bus, as 
were the usual suspects. This was the first time I had met Bernard 
and he looked nothing like Jean-Pierre. He was very corporate, well 
manicured, and in an immaculate suit. We arrived a bit early; it was 
drizzling but lots of people were already there and there was a buzz. 
We wandered around, had tea and coffee, and, for the first time, met 
Michelle, Jean-Pierre’s wife! We thought she just might be a virtual 
wife — it was reassuring to see she was real. 

The 400-seat theater was packed. Everyone in the audience sensed 
this was something special, history would be made here today, and they 
were all excited to be part of it. Dassault Systemes’ CEO began. He was 
handsome, charming, and it was evident that he was truly interested 
in innovation. Next we had de Closets: self-assured and concise. He 
introduced Jean-Pierre and they had their dialogue. It was fine but still 
a bit too long. Then Richard Breitner came on the stage and we saw 
the car crash, the cracks, the beams, and everything else. At this point 
everyone had been listening for more than an hour. 

The Internal Ramp Goes Public 


De Closets returned and explained that Jean-Pierre’s work was not 
just a theory, it was a hypothesis that had been tested by the virtual- 
reality process. Finally we all put on our 3-D glasses and the show 
began. Jean-Pierre narrated and explained that Fabien would be our 
pilot. Jean-Pierre asked Fabien to take us up the Pyramid, go down, 
inside, whatever we wish. The graphics are wonderful; we saw the ex- 
ternal ramp, the Grand Gallery being used to haul up the huge ceiling 
beams, and the internal ramp. We watched a bird fly around the work- 
ers’ village and it was great fun. At the end there was uplifting music, 
the bird flew, and we followed it. Lots of applause. 

De Closets and Jean-Pierre discussed the possibility of testing the 
theory. De Closets took questions from the audience but there were very 
few. Were they exhausted? Confused? Hungry? Then, like the late- 
night television commercials for the Ginsu steak knives — “But wait, 
there’s more!” — Jean-Pierre wanted to show everyone a thirty-second 
video that his wife had shot in Cairo from their hotel room window in 
2005. It was workmen piling up sandbags to test the structural strength 
of a foundation for a building they intended to build. They were basi- 
cally building a pyramid with an internal ramp out of sand bags ! Then 
the program was really over and there was a standing ovation for Jean- 
Pierre that lasted for a full five minutes. It was very moving. I knew 
how long and hard Jean-Pierre had worked; this was his day and he was 
beaming. Over the next few days Jean-Pierre’s theory was be reported 
in almost every major newspaper and scientific magazine around the 
world. 53 The conference had been a smashing success. 54 

The audience at La Geode 
in Paris viewing the world 
premiere of Dassault 
Systemes’s 3-D anima- 
tion of the building of the 

The Time Machine to Hemienu 

T he 3-D simulation of the Great Pyramid’s construction was 
a great achievement. It presented Jean-Pierre’s internal ramp 
theory and, to a limited extent, validated it. However, the 
newly formed trio of Jean-Pierre, Richard, and Mehdi wanted to go 
even further. They wanted something absolutely certain, “an Egyp- 
tological breakthrough that no one could dispute.” They decided to 
tackle the problem of the cracks in the King’s Chamber. 

In a previous chapter I described how the beams cracked as the 
Pyramid was being built. Until the trio focused their resources on the 
cracks, this was far from established. For more than a century Egyptol- 
ogists were not sure when the beams cracked. They could have cracked 
centuries after the Pyramid was built, perhaps during an earthquake. 
Now, using yet another Dassault Systemes program, SIMULIA, they 
would act like forensic engineers to determine exactly what caused the 
cracks. SIMULIA is used by many airplane and carmakers to test the 
strength of their products: wings and hulls before planes fly, crash tests 
for cars, and so on. They would treat the Great Pyramid like a con- 
struction disaster and “back engineer” what had happened. 

Their construction forensics required three steps. First, they needed 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

a geometric modeling, a re-creation in three dimensions, of the Great 
Pyramid. They had used the plans drawn by the French Operation 
Kheops team in 1986, which were the most detailed ever produced. 55 
But a geometric model isn’t enough to simulate physical events. All it 
can give you is the shape, the geometry of the construction. To re-create 
an event such as cracking of the beams you also need the physical char- 
acteristics of the materials used in the Pyramid. You need the weight of 
the materials, their elasticity, their texture. For this Jean-Pierre met with 
Francois Schlosser from Paris’s Bridges and Roads Laboratory, who was 
able to supply the specific parameters of the limestone and granite used 
in the Pyramid, which were entered into the computer. The virtual 
Pyramid was becoming more and more detailed. The last feature needed 
was functional modeling. Jean-Pierre’s theory of how the Pyramid was 
built involves mechanical systems such as sleds and trolleys running on 
wooden rollers. The mechanical properties of these systems — friction 
generated by a block pulled on a sled, compression of a limestone rafter 
as it is levered into place — all had to be entered into the computer. 

Then they built the burial chamber layer by layer. When it was 
complete, they built the relieving chambers, and finally the uppermost 
limestone blocks were piled on top of the Pyramid. The engineers ex- 
pected that as the Pyramid grew the load would be too great for the 
beams and they would crack. But as they piled more and more blocks 
on top, the beams held without cracking. Finally the virtual capstone 
was placed on the Pyramid and still no cracks. One of the computer en- 
gineers working on the project telephoned. “Jean-Pierre, we are unable 
to break these beams; there is no load on the beams, just on the rafters.” 
Of course, this is exactly what Hemienu had planned. The rafters on 
top were intended to distribute the load through the body of the Pyra- 
mid and the computer simulation confirmed that’s just what they were 
doing. The team even simulated a mini earthquake, but still no cracks. 
And yet the real beams had cracked — and there had to be a reason. 
Jean-Pierre went back to study the French team’s detailed plans of the 
Pyramid to look for something wrong. He discovered that the rafters 
had slipped just a tiny bit, just twelve millimeters on the north sides, 
so that the inverted V-shaped roof pressed on the limestone blocks be- 
neath them, rather than distributing the forces into the body of the 
Pyramid. This could have transmitted pressure to the beams. 

The engineers went back to their simulations, now entering the 

The Time Machine to Hemienu 


slight slippage of the rafters. Sure enough they saw considerable pres- 
sure on the beams, but no cracks. There had to be something else, so 
Jean-Pierre went back to the plans. Then he noticed that the south 
wall of the burial chamber had settled and was three centimeters lower 
than the north wall. The computer engineers now added the fact that 
the south wall was slightly lower than the north and ran the simulation 
again. First they completed the King’s Chamber and then went on to 
build the relieving chambers one at a time. The simulation showed in- 
creasing pressure on the beams, but still no cracks. The Pyramid grew 
course by course on their computer. When it reached a height of about 
375 feet, the beams in the King’s Chamber cracked. It wasn’t just the 
weight of the Pyramid above that did it; it was a combination of factors. 
The south wall settled ever so slightly — enough to cause the rafters to 
shift. This shift transmitted forces downward onto the beams of the 
ceiling. The granite beams, pinned asymmetrically under the load, had 
only one way to free the pressure: they couldn’t bend, so they broke. 
From the simulation we now know that the ceiling cracked during the 
construction of the Pyramid, about three years after the King’s Cham- 
ber was completed. 

The Dassault Systemes team didn’t stop when the ceiling beams 
cracked. They kept building the Pyramid on the computer, piling more 
blocks on top. When the Pyramid reached about 420 feet in height 
there was enough weight above to crack the ceiling beams in the first 
relieving chamber. At about 450 feet, the ceiling in the second reliev- 

Computer simulation of the 
cracks in the King’s Chamber 
demonstrated that the Pyramid 
cracked as it was being built. 

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The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

ing chamber cracked. At this point there was only another thirty feet or 
so to the top of the Pyramid, not enough weight to cause more cracks 
and disaster was averted. The team had conclusively demonstrated not 
only the cause of the cracks, but when they occurred, the first time 
such high-powered simulation software has been applied to a building 
constructed in the distant past. 

It was a wonderful discovery — an Egyptological breakthrough that 
was certain — but something bothered Jean-Pierre. What could cause 
the south wall to settle soon after the King’s Chamber was completed? 
Why hadn’t the other walls settled? With his encyclopedic knowledge 
of the Pyramid’s year-by-year construction, Jean-Pierre came up with 
the answer. Soon after the completion of the burial chamber, the ex- 
ternal ramp was dismantled — the external ramp that had been leaning 
on the south side of the Pyramid. When this tremendous mass was re- 
moved from the south face, the burial chamber’s south wall settled just 
a few centimeters, but enough to have great consequences. 

The Search for the 
Internal Ramp 

T he Dassault Systemes press conference thrust Jean-Pierre’s 
theory into the spotlight and opened it up for criticism. News- 
paper and magazine reporters were calling pyramid experts 
for their opinions. Many were noncommittal; they simply didn’t have 
enough details to judge. The good news was that none of the experts 
found any serious flaws in the theory. The internal ramp was a real 
possibility, but the details had to be presented somewhere. I published a 
streamlined account of the theory in Archaeology magazine 56 to see what 
the reaction would be. There was quite a bit of interest, and again none 
of the experts came up with a serious flaw in the theory. The theory 
was moving into the mainstream, people were talking about it, refer- 
ring to it in publications, but it clearly needed some solid evidence. 

Much ofJean-Pierre’s evidence for the internal ramp had come from 
computer reconstructions or computer printouts. The notch was the 
only “real world” support for the theory and that was far from conclu- 
sive. Jean-Pierre needed solid, tangible evidence for an internal ramp to 
take his theory from the realm of the “possible” to the probable. The 
search for physical evidence began. 

In April of 2008, we had a chance to add to the physical evidence 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

for the internal ramp theory. Every year I guide a group of Egyptology 
enthusiasts through Egypt. Our first day is spent on the Giza Plateau 
visiting the pyramids, and inevitably ends with a discussion of how the 
Great Pyramid was built. Thanks to Jean-Pierre, my description of the 
Pyramid’s construction has changed considerably in recent years and now 
includes a detailed discussion of the internal ramp theory. I point to the 
notch 275 feet above us and present the possibility that it is the remnant 
of one of the corners left open so the blocks could make turns up the 
internal ramp. I tell the group that the French team saw a desert fox dis- 
appear into the notch, and also they said that the notch seemed to them 
to be a perfect square. Someone in the group always says, “Wouldn’t it be 
great to climb up there and see what it really looks like?” 

Of course it would, but you can’t just climb the Pyramid. It is for- 
bidden. In the old days, when things were much more relaxed, I used 
to regularly climb to the top of the Great Pyramid on New Year’s Eve 
with my students. Since the 1980s, this has all changed and climbing 
is carefully regulated. In the 1990s, I was given permission to climb to 
the top a few times for television documentaries, but I hadn’t been up 
the Pyramid in nearly ten years. Now I didn’t want to climb to the top, 
just to the notch. 

When my tour group left Cairo for home, I stayed behind to help 
National Geographic film a documentary about theories of how the Great 
Pyramid was built. Filming in Egypt involves getting all kinds of per- 
missions and access to closed sites, and I suggested that they request 
permission for me to climb the Pyramid, not to the top, but just to the 
notch. Late in the afternoon of April 25, 2008, I began climbing. 

There are traditional routes up the Pyramid, where the blocks are 
not too large and the stone is stable. In some areas the blocks are very 
big and difficult to get up, and in other areas the stone is crumbly. Un- 
fortunately, the northeast corner, where the notch is, consists of both 
large and crumbly blocks. When I learned I would be able to climb, I 
spent several hours looking for the best route up. It was possible, but 
it would be difficult and slow going. To make matters even more in- 
teresting, on the day I was to visit the notch, the little thermometer 
attached to my bag was reading 111 degrees Fahrenheit. It would be a 
hot climb. 

As I set out to finally see the notch, my pockets contained a tape 
measure (to confirm the French team’s measurement), a digital camera 

The Search for the Internal Ramp 


(to take pictures for Jean-Pierre to analyze), and a flashlight (to shine 
in the crevice where the fox disappeared). As I began slowly picking 
my way up the first courses of blocks, the footholds were quite narrow 
and covered with loose rocks, so it was slow going. After about five 
minutes of very slow progress, the quality of stone got much better and 
the climb changed from nerve-racking to positively enjoyable. After 
about fifteen minutes I could see the notch looming just a few courses 
above me. Thirty seconds later I was standing in the famous notch. 

Jean-Pierre and I had often looked at aerial photos of the notch, 
trying to make out details that might indicate a ramp. We had endless 
conversations about the French report and what it might mean for the 
theory. Now that I was actually standing in the notch, I was disap- 
pointed. It wasn’t what I expected. It was much larger. From what the 
French had told Jean-Pierre, I had imagined a rather regular seven-foot 
six-inch square floor. Now that I was there, I couldn’t imagine what 
they were talking about. I was standing on a very irregular platform 
twice that size. 

I didn’t have time to ponder the discrepancy between what my 
eyes were telling me and what the French had reported. It was hot and 
I couldn’t stay on the Pyramid too long, so I quickly ran through the 
mental list of my three tasks, figuring out what to do first. The obvi- 
ous order was to photograph first while I had the light, measure second, 
again with the light, and third shine the flashlight into the crevice, since 
that didn’t require light. As I looked around me, it became obvious that 
the third task wasn’t going to be what I had imagined either. At the back 
of the notch was a crevice about eighteen inches wide and five feet high. 
Behind it was an area that looked like a small room — large enough for a 
hundred desert foxes ! I was eager to slip through the crevice, but decided 
to photograph the notch first before the light faded. 

With my digital camera I took the photos I thought Jean-Pierre 
would want, trying to show the masonry, the irregular floor, and the 
position of the crevice. The problem was that I couldn’t step back far 
enough to give him a real perspective. I really needed to be hovering in 
space beyond the notch so I could get it all in one photo. Detail shots 
would have to do. As soon as the photos were taken, I was on my hands 
and knees measuring. 

The notch was so irregular, with blocks jutting out in all directions, 
that it wasn’t clear which dimensions to measure. I pretended it was a 

The notch, high on the Pyramid, 
may be the remnant of a corner 
left open to turn blocks as they 
moved up the internal ramp. 

The Search for the Internal Ramp 

1 75 

rectangle and took four measurements. It was quick and dirty, but it 
was all I had time for. It was time to go through the crevice. 

I was greeted by graffiti painted 
in black on one of the blocks. This 
wasn’t virgin territory. Still, it was 
interesting, very interesting. I was 
standing inside a fairly large space. 

Was this the seven-foot six-inch 
square the French had talked about? 

No, it was too large and also ir- 
regular. It was as if a cave had been 
formed by stacking up large blocks 
on top of each other, forming a roof 
more than eight feet high. It cer- 
tainly wasn’t the internal ramp, but 
what was such a large space doing 
so high up on the Pyramid? 

I quickly photographed “the 
cave.” The crevice let in enough 
sunlight that I was sure the photos 
would come out. As I was mea- 
suring the cave for Jean-Pierre, I 
noticed a second crevice at floor 
level inside the cave. It was formed 
by two blocks not being set right 
next to each other, leaving a space 
of about twelve inches. But the little crevice extended well beyond the 
first two blocks, forming a small tunnel that ran for at least fifteen feet. 
I couldn’t squeeze inside, so I took a few photos and started my descent. 

Going down is a lot easier than going up. It’s the difference between 
hauling yourself up three- and four-foot blocks of stone and letting 
yourself down those blocks. With a relaxed trip downward, I started 
to evaluate the notch and how it fit in with Jean-Pierre ’s theory. I was 
a bit disappointed. The fantasy was that I would find a small crevice 
at floor level, shine my flashlight through, and see what looked like a 
ramp. Jean-Pierre is proven right, gets to take his walk up the ramp, 
and is acclaimed by the world as a genius. Fade to black. I knew this 
was unlikely, but that was the ideal scenario. 

A crevice in the back of the notch led to 
a large open space inside the pyramid. 

The Search for the Internal Ramp 


On a more realistic level, I had expected to find a more finished, 
regular area, suggesting it had been constructed for a purpose. To 
my untrained eye I couldn’t see much evidence of this. It just looked 
like blocks piled on top of blocks in the course of the Pyramid’s 
construction. On the other hand, the notch was quite large, large 
enough to hold a crane. And what was that large space behind the 
crevice? Was it just a cavity left in the course of building the Pyra- 
mid to save a few blocks of stone? Are there other undetected cavi- 
ties like it throughout the Pyramid? Do the notch and the space have 
a common cause? It seemed unlikely that the space behind the notch 
was just a coincidence. These were my questions as I lowered myself 
down the Pyramid. Near the bottom I once again had to concen- 
trate on what I was doing. The ledges were getting narrower and the 
footing uncertain. 

As I slowly picked my route down I could see Jean-Pierre waiting 
for me fifty feet below. Soon I was answering his questions as best I 
could. While I was a bit disappointed, or at least confused, by what 
I had found, he seemed elated. It all seemed to fit in with his theory. 
I was dying for a cold bottle of water and left a bit precipitously. We 
agreed we would download my pictures onto his computer at the hotel 
so he could do the analysis. 

At the hotel that night we downloaded the photos from my digi- 
tal camera onto Jean-Pierre ’s laptop. As the images popped up on the 
screen, Jean-Pierre pointed out details that my nonarchitect’s brain had 
missed. “Doesn’t that look like rough corbelling?” “See that block? It 
had to have been pushed into position from behind.” It all made good 
internal ramp sense to Jean-Pierre — even the roughness of the notch 
and the cave behind it. But he didn’t want to say more. He was already 
planning a computer model of the notch and cave that would reveal 
more about how the cave had been constructed and the kinds of blocks 
that were now missing in the notch. It would take months before he 
could say anything for certain, but the search for evidence for the inter- 
nal ramp was off to a good start. 

In the quest for evidence, Jean-Pierre began studying hundreds 
of photos of the Pyramid, looking for clues to its construction. As he 
looked at one of the Sphinx from the 1880s with the Great Pyramid in 
the background, he couldn’t believe what he saw — the internal ramp! 
At least that’s what it looks like. Going across the Pyramid is a straight 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

line at approximately an 8 percent slope. This, of course, doesn’t make 
any sense. The ramp should be about ten feet inside the surface of the 
Pyramid; there is no reason to expect faint traces of it on the outside, 
although these could be from the parallel gangway down which the 
haulers descended. This is not the only photo that shows this phenom- 
enon. A more recent photo also shows very faint, ghostly traces of what 
looks like two courses of the ramp. This kind of evidence is intriguing, 
but isn’t very strong. What is really needed is an actual internal ramp, 
not faint traces of one. 

The closest thing to an ancient Egyptian internal ramp is not in a 
pyramid, but in a temple at Dendera, 500 miles south of Giza. Built 
2,000 years after the Great Pyramid, the temple was constructed when 
Greeks were ruling Egypt, but the same building technique of placing 
blocks of stone upon blocks of stone was still in use. One of the most 
beautiful temples in all of Egypt, Dendera was dedicated to the god- 
dess Hathor, mistress of love and music. Each column in the temple is 
surmounted by the head of the goddess, a beautiful woman with the 

A recent photo also shows traces of what could be the internal ramp. 

The Search for the Internal Ramp 


ears of a cow. (Cows in ancient Egypt were associated with nurturing, 
mother’s milk, and security.) 

Egyptian temples were vast, dark enclosed structures. The common 
person was never supposed to enter into the sacred precinct of the god; 
that was the realm of the priests. Each day, within the temple’s many 
rooms, priests made offerings of food and drink to Hathor. Once a year, 
on New Year’s Day, there was a solemn procession to the roof of the 
temple, where shaven-headed priests greeted the sun and gave thanks 
for its bounty. The route those priests took is still inside the temple, and 
it is an internal ramp. Unlike Hemienu’s internal ramp, this one wasn’t 
used for construction. This ramp was for processions and is narrower 
than the one Hemienu built inside the Great Pyramid, but it shows 
that the vocabulary of ancient Egyptian architecture included the in- 
ternal ramp, even 2,000 years later than the Great Pyramid. Carved 
on both walls are depictions of priests carrying boxes containing the 
linens, perfumes, and other offerings they will present to Re, the sun 
god. Fortunately, the processional ramp at Dendera is not the only one 

The Temple of Dendera was dedicated to Hathor, goddess of love and music. 

1 yj 

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If if 

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Internal ramp used by priests of Dendera to ascend to the temple roof for New Year rituals. 

The Search for the Internal Ramp 


in Egypt. There is another, much closer to the Great Pyramid, both in 
space and time. 

When Jean-Pierre and I had our meeting with Dieter Arnold at 
the Metropolitan Museum of Art, just before we left, Dieter casu- 
ally mentioned that in an earlier excavation at Abu Gurob they found 
what looked like an internal ramp, but no one knew what to make of 
it. Abu Gurob is just a few miles from the Great Pyramid and its main 
feature is a sun temple built by King Ni-Userre of the 5th Dynasty. 
The 4th Dynasty pyramids of Giza marked the end of huge pyramids. 
Egypt would never again build anything as large as the Great Pyra- 
mid. Later pharaohs built smaller pyramids, and in the 5th Dynasty it 
was the fashion to construct a small pyramid and also a temple dedi- 
cated to the sun. Ni-Userre’s sun temple was built about 100 years 
after the Great Pyramid and provides physical evidence for internal 

The sun temple was basically a very large base on which an obelisk 
was erected. Obelisks, reaching upward to the sky, were associated with 
the sun and were made from a single piece of granite. (America’s Wash- 
ington Monument is based on the Egyptian obelisk, but it is built of 
thousands of blocks of stone.) Ni-Userre’s temple was excavated almost 
exactly 100 years ago by the renowned German Egyptologist Ludwig 
Borchardt. He published a diagram of the sun temple and it shows what 
appears to be an internal ramp. 57 If the drawing is accurate, this would 

Ludwig Borchardt’s diagram of an internal ramp inside a sun temple at Abu Gurob. 

Remains of a 4,000-year-old internal ramp at Abu Gurob. 

The Search for the Internal Ramp 


indeed be an important bit of evidence — an internal ramp constructed 
soon after the construction of the Great Pyramid. 

The site of Abu Gurob is reached through a lovely grove of palm 
trees. Where the palm trees end, the desert begins, and there on a hill 
is the sun temple. My first glance was disappointing. The sun temple 
is terribly ruined and clearly Borchardt’s diagram was his reconstruc- 
tion of what once was there, not what he saw. But sure enough, when 
I walked around a bit I could see that there had been an internal ramp 
and it was still recognizable. The ceiling was gone, but you can still 
walk up the path that priests had once taken to make their offerings, 
turn right, and continue up toward the top. Little more than a century 
after the Great Pyramid had been built, an unnamed Egyptian architect 
had paid homage to Hemienu’s creation. 

What’s Next? 

F inding the small, battered ramp inside the ruined temple was 
encouraging, but not the kind of evidence we really needed. In a 
perfect world, the best evidence would be to find the ramp inside 
the Pyramid itself. If we were going to do this, we knew it would have 
to be done nondestructively. There could be no moving of blocks of 
stone on the Pyramid. Our best bet was thermal photography. Thermal 
photography detects heat differentials. If the ramp really is inside the 
Pyramid, then the air inside the ramp would be cooler than the stones 
surrounding it. With a very good thermal camera, we might be able 
to do a kind of X-ray of the Pyramid and photograph the cool ramp 
inside. Thermal photography has been used before in archaeology to 
determine the internal structure of ancient buildings. We just needed 
permission to try it on the Great Pyramid. 

To work on the antiquities of Egypt, you need formal permission 
from the Supreme Council of Antiquities. You must submit a descrip- 
tion of what you want to do, the resumes of the team members, and the 
time period you will need to complete the project. The team members 
must have both the skills and the credentials to work on the project. It 
all sounds relatively simple, but soon we found out it wasn’t so easy. 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

There are two different kinds of permissions — excavations and sur- 
veys. Excavations involve moving earth and sand and is the more diffi- 
cult of the two permissions to obtain. Surveys move nothing and usually 
consist of mapping a monument such as a tomb or temple and copying 
the inscriptions on its walls. Our project was a survey; we didn’t want 
to move any blocks, drill any holes, or move any sand. We just wanted 
to photograph the Pyramid with a thermal camera or a similar device 
to detect whether there really was a mile-long ramp inside. 

When we wrote our proposal we knew that Jean-Pierre couldn’t 
be the project director. The Supreme Council of Antiquities requires 
a university affiliation for project directors and Jean-Pierre was an ar- 
chitect, not a university professor. To ensure that our project would be 
approved we asked Dieter Arnold to serve as director. Well respected 
and the author of the most authoritative book on building in ancient 
Egypt, he had excavated pyramids for thirty years. Our proposal ex- 
plained exactly what we wanted to do and what we hoped to find. We 
had everything necessary for the project in place, listed the compa- 
nies supplying all the equipment, and explained that the entire project 
could be completed in less than a week, and we emphasized the non- 
destructive nature of our study. With high hopes we sent the proposal 
to Dr. Zahi Hawass, the secretary-general of the Supreme Council of 

Hawass is the gray-haired, enthusiastic Egyptian Egyptologist who 
is in practically every television documentary ever produced about an- 
cient Egypt. Nothing is approved without him, and for years I have 
worked with him on good terms. I was optimistic about our approval, 
but it was not to be. We were rejected because Dieter Arnold already 
had one concession to excavate, at Dashur, and it was one per customer. 
The Supreme Council wanted to make sure that the director was prop- 
erly attending to his project; and no one could be in two places at the 
same time. This concern went back to the early days of Egyptian ar- 
chaeology when the Antiquities Service was under the control of the 
French and its director, August Mariette, conducted as many as a dozen 
excavations at the same time! Who knows what antiquities were stolen 
by his workmen when he was off supervising other excavations hun- 
dreds of miles away. 

We had Plan B. Earlier, Jean-Pierre had discussed the internal ramp 

What’s Next? 

18 7 

theory with Dr. Rainer Stadelmann, a member of the German Archae- 
ological Institute who had also written extensively about pyramids. 
Like Arnold, he too thought it was an “interesting” possibility. We had 
thought that if for any reason Dieter Arnold didn’t want to be the proj- 
ect director, then we would ask Stadelmann. But he too had his own 
ongoing excavation in Egypt, so we were never able to ask him. We 
were getting desperate and moved on to Plan C. 

I was a university professor and wasn’t excavating. Could I be proj- 
ect director? The truth was that the reason I wasn’t excavating is that I 
have no idea how to excavate. Dirt archaeology is a very different skill 
from mummy studies. I haven’t been trained to lay down grids, survey 
an excavation site, dig trial trenches, and conserve what I might find. 
Still, the project was only a survey, and we had other experts on the 
team. It was worth a try. 

Dr. Hawass’s assistant e-mailed that this plan wouldn’t work either. 
While Zahi had high praise for my work, he felt my expertise was “the 
wrong flavor.” I was disappointed, but understood the position. Why 
should a mummy person be supervising a pyramid project? We were 
running out of plans when we came up with another possibility. Why 
couldn’t Zahi himself be project director? Before becoming secretary- 
general, Dr. Hawass had been director of the Giza Plateau. He is an 
expert on pyramids, loved to be around them, and thought our theory 
was interesting, though he never said he believed it. If we were right 
about the ramp, this project would get the attention of the world and 
television documentaries were inevitable. Zahi is excellent on televi- 
sion and could also be the spokesman for the project. Of course, this 
was too perfect to be true. Zahi declined; this was not his project and 
he didn’t want to do it; he was busy working on his own research. It 
may also be that Hawass was being polite and didn’t believe the man in 
black’s theory. Perhaps he needs more evidence. 

I t may well be that before we receive permission we have to accumu- 
late even more evidence, build an even stronger case for the inter- 
nal ramp. Jean-Pierre’s analysis of the notch and the “room” behind it 
may add something. Help may also come from new technology on the 
horizon. A simple infrared camera enabling you to snap a picture of 


The Secret of the Great Pyramid 

a building and then see the rooms inside may be on the market soon. 
Such a camera could help add considerably to the evidence. 

As we continue to gather evidence, I am reminded of Scully and 
Mulder in the old X-Files TV series. We just need a bit more evidence 
to prove the case before the authorities will listen. Our advantage over 
the X-Files is that the end is in sight. Either the ramp is inside the Pyra- 
mid or it isn’t. The truth is out there and I am certain we will know it 


Appendix I: The Search for Imhotep 

Almost certainly, Imhotep would have been rewarded by Zoser with 
a great tomb, but in spite of extensive searches by Egyptologists, that 
tomb has not yet been found. There is considerable evidence that he 
was buried at Saqqara, near the pharaoh he served so well. We know 
from ancient writings that two thousand years after his death, when 
he was worshipped as the god of healing, Imhotep’s tomb was a pil- 
grimage site, like Lourdes in France, visited by the sick in search of 
miraculous cures. Pilgrims came from all over Egypt — and when they 
finally reached Saqqara they were greeted by vendors selling mummi- 
fied ibises. The ibis was sacred to Imhotep, so the idea was that if you 
bought one of these birds and left it as an offering at Imhotep’s tomb, 
he would be pleased and cure you. 

The mummified ibis trade was big business and thousands of these 
birds were raised in captivity, sacrificed, mummified, wrapped, and 
then placed in clay pots to be sold to the pilgrims. Because the mum- 
mies were wrapped and in pots, the hopeful traveler was buying a “pig 
in a poke.” He had no idea what was inside the offering he had just 
purchased, and was often cheated. When we study mummies we rarely 
unwrap them — X-rays and CAT scans are nondestructive and quite re- 



vealing. Often, beautiful wrappings conceal just a bundle of rags and 
a few random animal bones, but no ibis. Hor, the priest in charge of 
the animal offerings at Saqqara, complained of the fraud. He wanted 
“a god in every pot!” Regardless of whether the pots contained real or 
fake mummies, they provided clues that sent Egyptologists searching 
for decades for the tomb of the architect of the first pyramid. 

I n 1966, Walter B. Emery, a well-known British archaeologist, began 
his search for Imhotep. Spotting a trail of thousands of broken pot- 
sherds at Saqqara, Emery thought they might have been broken by pil- 
grims along their route to Imhotep’s tomb. During his excavations he 
found several important tombs of the 3rd Dynasty, the right period 
for Imhotep. In one tomb he even found 500 pots containing ibises, 
but still no Imhotep. Emery’s next discovery was the entrance to the 
now-famous animal-mummy galleries. The galleries run for miles be- 
neath the sands of Saqqara, and carved into the walls of the tunnels are 
niches, each one holding a clay pot. The first gallery Emery excavated 
held tens of thousands of mummified ibises, convincing him that he 
was on the trail of Imhotep. Many were elaborately wrapped with ap- 
plique decorations sewn onto the outer wrappings. Pressing on, Emery 
found a gallery of mummified baboons, each wrapped and placed in a 
coffin that rested inside a niche carved into the soft limestone. Both the 
ibis and baboon were forms of the god Toth, who was associated with 

Emery excavated for six seasons, discovering miles of tunnels con- 
taining more than a million mummified animals. Within the rubble 
of some galleries were plaster models of various human body parts — 
hands, legs, feet — undoubtedly left by pilgrims with afflictions of those 
members, hoping to be healed. In the 1969—70 season, he discovered 
his first written confirmation connecting Imhotep with the animal 
galleries. In one gallery Emery discovered an ink inscription that read: 
“May Imhotep, the great son of Ptah the great god and the good god 
who rests here, give life to Petenfertem . . .” All indications were that 
Emery was nearing his goal. He hoped that if he followed the galleries 
to their end, he would find Imhotep’s tomb, but it was not an easy ex- 
cavation. Some galleries were totally blocked with thousands of mum- 
mified birds that had been stacked up when wall space for niches had 



run out. Once the roof collapsed as they excavated and had to be shored 
up. In the end, Emery suffered a fatal stroke while working at Saqqara 
and never found Imhotep. For decades no one resumed Emery’s work, 
but currently several excavation teams at Saqqara are hoping to find the 
architect of the first pyramid in history. 

A Polish expedition working near the Step Pyramid has found blue- 
green ceramic tiles similar to those used in Zoser’s burial chamber, and 
the team is hoping that Imhotep may have used these tiles for his tomb. 
In 2008, a Scottish team using ground penetrating radar at Saqqara 
found a very large tomb beneath the sand. The tomb has not yet been 
excavated, but they say it is large enough to be Imhotep’s. The search 
for Imhotep’s tomb may be nearing an end. 

Appendix II: The Lost Pyramid 

One might wonder how a pyramid can be lost, but that’s what hap- 
pened just a few hundred yards from the Step Pyramid. In 1951, 
Egyptian Egyptologist Zakariah Goneim discovered the remains of 
a pyramid that was never completed. 58 Unlike Zoser’s, which had six 
steps, it was apparently intended to have seven. Almost totally covered 
in sand, its excavation took several years and yielded much informa- 
tion about the early days of pyramid construction. One graffito on the 
pyramid’s enclosure wall reads “Imhotep,” so it is quite possible that 
Imhotep outlived Zoser and designed a second pyramid. During the 
1953-54 season, the entrance was found on the north side, with the 
door still sealed, indicating that although the pyramid was unfinished, 
the pharaoh evidently had been buried inside. There was tremendous 
excitement; an intact royal burial of the Old Kingdom had been found. 
To make it even better, fragmentary inscriptions indicated the king was 
Horus-Sekhem-Khet, a little-known pharaoh who was about to roar 
back into history. 

Goneim opened the door and found a descending corridor framed 
by an arch — so much for the Romans inventing the arch! At the bottom 
of the corridor, huge limestone blocks and rubble still blocked the en- 


19 S 

trance to the burial chamber. Carefully removing the debris, Goneim 
found gold jewelry on the corridor floor: twenty-one gold bracelets, 
388 hollow beads, and the remains of a wooden magical wand covered 
in gold. Why had such a treasure been left on the floor? Perhaps to ap- 
pease tomb robbers, in the hope that after clearing the corridor they 
would find the jewelry, be satisfied, and leave. It wasn’t necessary: they 
never got that far, and the door to the burial chamber was still intact 
when Goneim reached it. It must have occurred to Goneim that his 
discovery could be the next Tutankhamen. If there was gold jewelry on 
the floor outside the burial chamber, what was inside? Various officials 
and news media were told of the great discovery, and on the day of the 
opening, the corridor was packed with reporters. 

The door was carefully taken down and Goneim peered in. Every- 
one was shocked. The burial chamber was virtually empty! There were 
no treasures as in Tutankhamen’s tomb — no furniture, no boxes with 
clothing, no statues or vases, just a translucent alabaster sarcophagus. 
Once the disappointment subsided, everyone’s attention turned to the 
sarcophagus. It was still sealed and on the lid were plant remains, per- 
haps incense used in a burial ritual. The sarcophagus had obviously not 
been touched since it was placed beneath the pyramid more than 4,500 
years ago, so once again spirits rose. The intact mummy of an Old 
Kingdom pharaoh was still a fabulous discovery. 

It took several hours of hard work to open the sarcophagus, as its 
five-ton sliding side panel had to be lifted. Again Goneim peered in; 
again disappointment. The sarcophagus was empty; it had never been 
used. Where was Horus-Sekhem-Khet? The pyramid was a decoy, in- 
tended to throw thieves off the trail of the pharaoh’s true burial. If this 
is correct, it may explain why the pyramid was never plundered. Rob- 
bers frequently obtained inside information from tomb builders. If they 
did in this case, they would have known the unfinished pyramid of 
Horus-Sekhem-Khet was a dud, not worthy of robbing. 

Appendix III: The Case of the Missing Queen 

One of the great treasures in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum is the funer- 
ary furniture and jewelry of Queen Hetepheres. Elegant furniture with 
beautiful gold bands of hieroglyphs are the main attraction, but there 
are also spectacular silver bracelets inlaid with turquoise butterflies, 
whose discovery came about under unique circumstances. Found in 
1925, when Tutankhamen’s tomb was being excavated, Hetepheres’s 
tomb was another intact royal tomb with (hopefully) the same poten- 
tial for treasures. 

Unlike Howard Carter’s discovery, which was the result of hard 
work and knowing what to look for, Hetepheres’s tomb was found by 
pure luck. A photographer for the Harvard— Boston Museum team ex- 
cavating at Giza was photographing the site when one of the legs of 
his tripod seemed to go through the bedrock on which it rested. Care- 
ful examination revealed that the tripod leg had actually gone through 
ancient plaster that was covering a deep shaft. As the rubble filling the 
shaft was removed, it became clear that there would be a tomb at the 
bottom. Thirty feet down, the excavators uncovered a sealed wall; 
behind it would hopefully be something rivaling Tutankhamen’s trea- 



19 7 

When the wall was taken down, a small room was revealed with the 
remains of ancient furniture, an alabaster sarcophagus, and a few other 
objects. Not quite Tutankhamen, but still some wonderful things. 
The inscriptions on the furniture showed that this was the burial site 
of Queen Hetepheres, the wife of Sneferu and the mother of Khufu, 
builder of the Great Pyramid. It seems as if Khufu wanted his mother 
buried close to him, so he had her tomb dug near the base of his Pyra- 
mid. The one piece that didn’t fit was the size of the tomb; it was rather 
modest for such an important queen. Then things became even more 

Now all the excavators had to do was remove the lid of the alabaster 
sarcophagus in the tomb and they would become the first people in 
more than four thousand years to gaze on the face of Queen Hete- 
pheres. First the furniture had to be removed to create enough space to 
work on the sarcophagus. This was extremely difficult as the wood had 
deteriorated and everything had to be photographed and mapped in 
place first so that if it crumbled to dust it could be recreated in modern 
materials. Finally the time to remove the sarcophagus lid arrived and 
an imposing group of officials was invited to the opening. 

One by one the august visitors were roped into an armchair and 
lowered into the tomb. The master of ceremonies was George Andrew 
Reisner, field director of the expedition. Reisner had asked the expedi- 
tion’s artist, Joseph Lindon Smith, to be present. He later published an 
account of the surprising events of that day. 

Wheeler and Dunham were at either side of the sarcophagus, to 
operate two short projectors, which were to serve as handles for 
lifting the lid. Fitted under the handles was a frame of wooden 
beams resting on the jack screws. Reisner sat on a small box, 
and I was next to him, kneeling, and closest to the sarcophagus. 

In a breathless silence, the lid began to be lifted. When it was 
sufficiently raised for me to peer inside, I saw to my dismay that 
the queen was not there — the sarcophagus was Empty! Turning 
to Reisner, I said in a voice louder than I had intended, “George, 
she’s a dud!” Whereupon the minister of Public Works asked, 

“What is a Dud?” Reisner rose from his box and said, “Gentle- 
men, I regret Queen Hetepheres is not receiving,” and added, 

“Mrs. Reisner will serve refreshments at the camp .” 59 



To make things even more puzzling, one of the objects in the tomb 
was a beautiful chest with four compartments, carved out of a single 
block of alabaster. It contained the internal organs of Queen Hete- 
pheres that had been removed at the time of mummification. The ab- 
sence of the queen’s mummy led to all kinds of speculation. Reisner’s 
theory was that the queen’s original tomb was at Dashur, near her hus- 
band Sneferu’s pyramid. Unfortunately her tomb was partially robbed 
during the reign of her son, Khufu. By the time officials discovered that 
the tomb had been plundered, the body was missing. (Tomb robbers 
frequently removed the body to unwrap it later in safety, hoping to find 
jewelry.) Rather than upset the pharaoh with news that his mother’s 
body was missing, the officials resealed the sarcophagus and told the 
king that although some objects had been looted from the tomb, her 
body was intact. To prevent further robbery of the tomb, Khufu rebur- 
ied what he thought was his mother’s body, along with what remained 
of her funerary equipment, near his Pyramid on the Giza Plateau. 

Reisner’s theory is highly speculative and was perhaps influenced 
by his addiction to mystery novels. He read hundreds and hundreds of 
them, which were later donated to Harvard’s Widener Library. Each 
one has Reisner’s evaluation on the front endpaper. He graded them 
like students’ papers — many have B+ and the really bad got a C. No 
tomb for Hetepheres has ever been found at Dashur, so we really don’t 
know if there was a robbery and reburial. It could be that like her hus- 
band, Sneferu, Hetepheres had a southern and northern burial and her 
second tomb containing her mummy is still to be found. 

Appendix IV: Making Khufu’s Sarcophagus 

Lying in a granite quarry at Aswan is a 3,000-year-old obelisk that 
holds the answer to what tools were used to fashion Khufu’s sarcopha- 
gus. The obelisk cracked while it was being quarried and was aban- 
doned, still attached to the quarry on two sides. Weighing in at around 
1,000 tons — as much as two jumbo jets — the obelisk may be the largest 
single block of stone ever quarried. Because it is unfinished, we can 
clearly see the techniques used to free it from the quarry. 

There are no chisel marks on the obelisk, but on the sides where it is 
free from the quarry we can see depressions as if a huge ice-cream scoop 
had removed balls of granite to shape the obelisk. What tool could have 
done this? Nothing as sophisticated as Petrie imagined. Throughout 
the quarry are hundreds of black stones the size of cantaloupes. These 
are the tools that pounded the obelisk out of the quarry, and also shaped 
the sarcophagus in the King’s Chamber that so impressed Petrie. The 
black rocks are dolerite, which is even harder than granite. They were 
repeatedly dropped on the edges of the obelisk, causing the depressions. 
This is a labor-intensive process, involving thousands and thousands of 
man-hours to repeatedly drop the pounders to chip away the granite a 
tiny bit at a time; a task possibly done by prisoners sentenced to hard 



labor in the quarry. Petrie didn’t realize that unlimited man-hours can 
take the place of fine tools. The techniques that were used to quarry 
the obelisk were basically the same as those needed to free the block 
from which Khufu’ s sarcophagus was fashioned. 

In a remarkable series of experiments, Denys Stocks, an expert in an- 
cient stoneworking technology, re-created the tools used by Hemienu’s 
workers and demonstrated how Khufu ’s sarcophagus was fashioned. 60 
Once the rough block of granite was pounded out of the quarry, the 
ends were cut with giant copper saws much like old-fashioned two- 
man saws. The copper saws, however, were simple rectangular sheets 
of copper with no teeth. Sand, used as an abrasive, was placed between 
the blade and the future sarcophagus and two men would move the saw 
back and forth, wearing a groove into the granite block. It was a slow, 
laborious process, but eventually the end of the block was sawn off. 
Hollowing out the block was more complicated. 

Ancient Egyptian tomb paintings show craftsmen using bow drills — 
something very much like the bow from a bow and arrow. When the 
bow was moved back and forth horizontally, the string rotated a tu- 
bular copper bit. With sand as an abrasive, a circular hole was slowly 
worn into the granite. Stocks ’s experiments showed that to drill just six 
centimeters into granite by this method took sixty man-hours. More 
than 100 such holes were drilled into the granite and the cores that 
were left were knocked out with chisels. By doing rather than theoriz- 
ing, Stocks could calculate the man-hours needed to create Khufu’s 
sarcophagus — 28,000 man-hours! 61 This is a figure I always keep in 
mind when I think about all the granite beams and blocks used for the 
burial chamber in the Great Pyramid. 

Appendix V: The Pyramid’s Angle 

Before a single block was put in place, the angle of the pyramid had to 
be determined. The Egyptians did not think in terms of degrees; they 
never divided the circle into 360 degrees as we do. Rather, their unit for 
angles was called the seked. Their unit of length was the cubit, roughly the 
distance from elbow to the end of the middle finger. This was, of course, 
standardized. Their measuring rod, the cubit stick, was divided into seven 
palms, and each palm into four fingers, similar to the way we divide a 
yardstick into feet and inches. When Egyptian architects were consider- 
ing angles, they thought in terms of how 
many cubits you built outward for each 
cubit of height. For example, if the pyra- 
mid rises one cubit and you build out one 
cubit, you will have a 45-degree angle. 

The ratio doesn’t have to be in terms 
of cubits; we could also think in terms 
of palms. So if you built upward one 
cubit but out ten palms, you would have 
a seked of ten, which is the same as our 
35-degree angle. 

1 cubit 



All pyramids may look pretty much alike to the layman, but they 
are not. At Meidum, the first attempt at the true pyramid, the exterior 
angle is 52 degrees. The Bent Pyramid begins at 54 degrees, but toward 
the top it changes to 43 degrees. The Red Pyramid is 43 degrees and 
the Great Pyramid is 52 degrees. These pyramids all had white casing 
stones that were crucial to ensuring that the pyramids’ angles were 
constant throughout construction. 

The thousands of casing stones needed for the Great Pyramid would 
have been finished at the quarry with their 52-degree angles before 
transportation to the site. When the angle is carved on the rough block, 
the weight is reduced by several hundred pounds. By completing the 
blocks in the quarry rather than shipping them in rough form to the 
construction site, you save the shipping and hauling of thousands of 
tons of what will eventually be rubble. 

Herodotus was told that the Pyramid was completed from the top 
down — that the casing stones were put on the surface of the Pyramid 
while still in their rectangular shape and then, when all were in place, 
the blocks were given their 52-degree angle by carving from top to 
bottom. The economic reason mentioned above gives one argument 
against Herodotus’s account, but there are other arguments. First, where 
would the workers stand when carving from the top down? There isn’t 
enough room at the top. Second, as a pyramid rises, the angles at the 
corners must be repeatedly checked to make certain that the four sides 
will meet perfectly at the top to create a point. This requires that fin- 
ished blocks be in place as the pyramid grows. Third, if all the external 
blocks were finished at the end of the project, this would add several 
years to the construction time. Thus, for all these reasons, it makes 
sense to complete each facing block in the quarry before it is placed on 
the pyramid. 

There is also empirical evidence to show that the blocks were fin- 
ished first and then put in place. The Bent Pyramid at Dashur has more 
of its casing stones in place than any other pyramid. When these blocks 
are examined carefully, one sees numerous blocks with chips that have 
been repaired with matching limestone plugs. This suggests that the 
blocks were finished and some damage occurred either during trans- 
portation or while setting the blocks in position. If the blocks had been 
set in place when rough and then finished in situ from top to bottom, 
we wouldn’t expect to find many chips and repairs. 


1. Isler, Sticks, Stones & Shadows, pp. 215—217, and Arnold, Building 
in Egypt, p. 100. The problems with the single ramp theory are 
sometimes ignored. See for example Romer, The Great Pyramid, 
pp. 204-205, where he merely asserts “there was probably a single 
central ramp built up higher and longer that rested on the Pyra- 
mid’s south face . . .” There is never any discussion of just how 
large or long such a ramp would have to be. 

2. Burton, The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, p. 1675. The 
story of A1 Mamun’s entering the Great Pyramid is tale 398. The 
idea that the pyramid contained metal that would not rust and glass 
that would not break is an early example of the tradition that the 
ancient Egyptians were an advanced civilization, much of whose 
wisdom and technology have been lost. 

3. Two eight-inch rectangular channels, one beginning in the south 
wall and one in the north, continue nearly 200 feet through the core 
of the Pyramid. Why? It has been suggested that the shafts provided 
ventilation for the workmen inside the chamber, but such a small 
opening is clearly inadequate for air circulation. Others suggest that 
they were used for observing stars to assist in the construction of the 



Pyramid. This is impossible. The shafts are not straight; they begin 
horizontally and then angle upward into the body of the Pyramid. 
Still another possibility is that they were a very early intercom system 
that conducted sound, enabling the workmen to communicate from 
different parts of the Pyramid. It is also possible that the shafts had a 
purely religious function, permitting the soul of the deceased pha- 
raoh to come and go through the Pyramid. 

In 1992, in an attempt to solve the mystery of the air shafts, 
a small robot with a miniature video camera was designed and 
constructed by Rudolph Gantenbrink, a German engineer. Named 
Wepwawet, after the jackal god who led the deceased to the next 
world and was called “the opener of the way,” the robot was basi- 
cally a miniature tank, complete with treads. The idea was to send 
the 17-centimeter robot through the 19-centimeter shafts to dis- 
cover where they went. On its first voyage of discovery, it became 
lodged in the shaft in the south wall. The enormous weight de- 
flected by the chamber’s rafters had caused some settling of the 
blocks forming the shaft and in some places the shaft was only 16.5 
centimeters, just too small for Wepawet. In its first attempt, the 
robot only penetrated 12 meters. 

In the northern shaft, the camera revealed a long metal rod that 
had been abandoned by Waynman Dixon, a nineteenth-century 
explorer who first discovered the shafts by chiseling into the wall. 
In 1993 Gantenbrink returned to Egypt with a smaller, rede- 
signed Wepawet. On March 22, 1993, the robot slowly made its 
way up the southern shaft and after about 185 feet encountered a 
slab of limestone completely blocking the passageway. On the slab 
are two copper fittings that look like handles. What’s behind the 
block? We don’t know, and the robots’ exploration of the shafts in 
the second burial chamber didn’t solve the question of the purpose 
of the air shafts. 

4. Exodus 1:12. 

5. Genesis 37:2—50:26. The Joseph story of course never mentions 
building pyramids as granaries. There are several Egyptian repre- 
sentations of granaries and none is even remotely pyramidal. The 
Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has a three-dimen- 
sional model of a granary found in the tomb of a noblemen named 
Meketre. It is a rectangular room. 



6. Greaves, Pyramidographia. 

7. Smyth, The Great Pyramid, p. ix. Smyth’s great opus went through 
many editions, even though his theories were discarded by the sci- 
entific community, and is still in print today more than a century 
after it first appeared. 

8. Smyth, page 35. 

9. Ostrander and Schroeder, Psychic Discoveries. The authors visited 
Soviet parapsychologists and reported their claims that dull razor 
blades were sharpened when placed inside a cardboard pyramid. 
When I was a research fellow at the Institute for Parapsychology 
in Durham, NC, several of us tested the Soviet claim with poor 
results. Still, the book started the “Pyramid Power” fad. 

10. Scamuzzi, Egyptian Art. 

11. Brier, “The Use of Natron in Human Mummification.” 

12. Lauer, Saqqara. The excavation and reconstruction of the Step Pyr- 
amid was the work of the French architect Jean- Philippe Lauer, 
who worked at the site for more than fifty years. 

13. Mendelssohn, Riddle of the Pyramids. 

14. Another theory is that the pharaoh died before the pyramid was 
completed and was thus buried elsewhere. This theory relies on the 
identification of the owner of the pyramid as King Huni, father of 
Sneferu, but there is little evidence for this attribution. 

15. The ancient Greeks had a reverence for the even more ancient 
Egyptians. Herodotus proudly states that the Greeks got their gods 
from the Egyptians and also learned how to build in stone from 
the Egyptians. Plato’s Dialogues present frequent references to the 
Egyptians’ skills and wisdom. In the 1990s, Martin Bernal’s book 
Black Athena continued this tradition and attempted to show that 
much of western civilization derived from ancient Egypt. This 
book was highly controversial and was criticized by the majority 
of scholars. 

16. Gillings, Mathematics in the Time of the Pharaohs. 

17. Lichtheim, “Three Tales of Wonder.” 

18. Jenkins, Boat Beneath the Pyramid. 

19. Lipke, Royal Ship of Cheops. 

20. Manetho, Aegyptiaca. 

21. Because of the high water table in the area of what was ancient 
Memphis, the ancient city has sunk into the ground and almost 



completely disappeared. Excavations in the 1890s and early 1900s 
were hindered considerably by water. 

22. Krauss, “The Length of Sneferu’s Reign.” 

23. Romer, The Great Pyramid, pp. 74-75. It is difficult to estimate the 
number of workers, and estimates vary considerably. 

24. Lehner, in Giza Reports, gives a good overview of the excavation 
of the workers’ village. He also publishes a newsletter, Aeragram, 
that gives progress reports of each season. 

25. Naville, The Temple of Deir El Balir, Plates CLIII-CLIV. 

26. Landstrom, Ships of the Pharaohs, provides a good survey of the 
kinds of boats used in ancient Egypt. 

27. Romer, The Great Pyramid, p. 169. 

28. Petrie, Researches in Sinai. 

29. Romer, The Great Pyramid, p. 158. 

30. Lucas, Ancient Egyptian Materials, pp. 74-79. 

31. Lehner, The Complete Pyramids, p. 212. 

32. Spence, “Ancient Egyptian Chronology.” 

33. Goidin and Dormion, “Architectural Analysis.” 

34. Bui, “First Results of Structural Analysis.” 

35. Tonouchi, “Non-Destructive Pyramid Investigations.” 

36. Eissa, “Application of Mossbauer and X-ray Fluorescence.” 

37. Newberry, El Bersheh, Part I, pp. 16-26 and PI. XII. 

38. For an excellent biography of Petrie, full of wonderful anecdotes, 
see Flinders Petrie by Margaret Drawer. 

39. Petrie, Pyramids and Temples, pp. 15—16. 

40. Lehner, Pyramid Tomb of Hetep-here, pp. 45-50. For a brief account 
of the discovery of Queen Hetepheres’s tomb, see Appendix III. 

41. Hawass, “Pyramids and Temples of Egypt,” pp. 107-111. 

42. Arnold, Building in Egypt, p. 9. 

43. Herodotus, History, p. 427. 

44. Diodorus of Sicily, Library of History, Vol. I, p. 217. 

45. James, Pharaoh’s People, p. 64. 

46. Clarke, Ancient Egyptian Construction, fig. 86. 

47. Houdin and Houdin, “Construction de la Pyramide de Kheops” 
pp. 76-83. 

48. Hawass, Pyramids : Treasures, Mysteries, and New Discoveries, 

pp. 176-179. 

49. No Spanish winch has ever been found, but it is certainly a simple 


20 7 

enough device that the Egyptians could have used it. Wood from 
such machines would have been reused in later projects. 

50. Perring, The Pyramids of Gizeh. 

51. Vyse, Operations Carried On. 

52. Actually, Jean-Pierre Houdin and his father published an early ver- 
sion of his theory in book form in 2003 (Houdin and Houdin, 
La Pyramide de Kheops ). The book went largely unnoticed, partly 
because it was so technical and also because the publisher was ex- 
tremely small and didn’t have the means to distribute it. A later 
version of the theory was published in 2006 (J.-P. Houdin, Khufu) 
in an edition to be sold only in the bookstore in the Egyptian 
Museum in Cairo. This book too is extremely technical, has mostly 
diagrams and little text, and could have benefited with professional 
editing. It too, understandably, went unnoticed. 

53. Kiner, Revelations sur Kheops, pp. 44-59, and Brier, “How the Pyr- 
amids Were Built” pp. 22—27, for example. 

54. Dassault Systemes, Kheops Revele. 

55. Dormion, Pyramide of Cheops: Architecture des Appartements. The 
plans are on twelve separate sheets, each covering a different area 
of the Great Pyramid. 

56. Brier, How the Pyramids Were Built. 

57. Borchardt, “Der Bau,” fig. 20. 

58. Goneim, The Buried Pyramid. 

59. J. L. Smith, Tombs, Temples, & Ancient Art, pp. 147-148. 

60. Stocks, Stoneworking Technology, pp. 169-177. 

61. Stocks, Stoneworking Technology, p. 176. 


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. “Surgical Procedures During Ancient Egyptian Mummifica- 
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. Mountains of the Pharaohs. Cairo: American University of Cairo 

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. 2007. Pyramids: Treasures, Mysteries, and New Discoveries in Egypt. 

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Houdin, Jean-Pierre. Klmfu. Cairo: Farid Atiya Press, 2006. 

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. La Pyramide de Kheops. Paris: Editions Du Linteau, 2003. 

Isler, Martin. Sticks, Stones, & Shadows: Building the Egyptian Pyramids. 
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Jackson, Kevin and Jonathan Stamp. Building the Great Pyramid. To- 
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James, T.G.H. Pharaoh’s People. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 



Jecquier, Gustave, La Pyramide d’Oudjebten. Cairo: L’Organization 
Egyptienne Generale du Livre, 1978. 

Jenkins, Nancy. The Boat Beneath the Pyramid. London: Thames & 
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Kiner, Aline. “Revelations sur Kheops,” in Le Nouvel Observateur Science 
et Avenirs, April 2007. 

Knight, Charles. The Mystery and Prophecy of the Great Pyramid. San Jose, 
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Krauss, Rolf. “The Length of Sneferu’s Reign and How Long It Took to 
Build the Red Pyramid,” in Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol. 82 
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Landstrom, Bjorn. Ships of the Pharaohs. New York: Doubleday, 1970. 

Lauer, Jean-Philippe. Saqqara. London: Thames & Hudson, 1976. 

Lawton, Ian and Chris Ogilvie-Herald. Giza : The Truth. London: 
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Lefkowitz, Mary R. and Guy MacClean Rogers, eds. Black Athena 
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. The Pyramid Tomb of Hetep-heres and the Satellite Pyramid of 

Khufu. Mainz Am Rheim, Germany: Von Zabern, 1985. 

. The Complete Pyramids. London: Thames & Hudson, 1997. 

Lemesurier, Peter. The Great Pyramid Decoded. New York: St. Martin’s 
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Lichtheim, Miriam. “Three Tales of Wonder,” in Ancient Egyptian Lit- 
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Mysteries of Man, 1989. 

Macaulay, David. Pyramid. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1975. 

Manetho. Aegyptiaca. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971. 

Maragioglio, V. and C. Rinaldio. L’Architettura Delle Piramidi Menfite, 
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Mendelssohn, Kurt. The Riddle of the Pyramids. New York: Praeger, 

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vols. London: James Fraser, 1837-42. 

Photography Credits 

All images courtesy of Bob Brier except: 

Images throughout text: 

Jon Bodsworth: pages 16-7, 31, 82-3 (bottom). 

Jean-Pierre Houdin: pages 39, 83, 86, 95 (right), 103, 106, 143. 

Val Parks: page 56. 

Albert Ranson: pages 62-3, 129. 

Farid Atiya: page 74. 

Dassault Systemes: pages 98-9, 101, 105, 109, 112, 123 (bottom), 
131, 132, 144, 146-7, 148, 159, 164-5, 169. 

Edgar Brothers: page 104. 

Henri Houdin: pages 127, 128. 

EDF Foundation: page 134. 

Images in color inserts: 

Jon Bodsworth: page 1. 

Hulton-Deutscti Collection/Corbis: page 2. 

Dassault Systemes: pages 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. 



Abu Gurob, 181, 182, 183 
ACGP. See Association Constru- 
ire la Grande Pyramide 
Aesculapius, 23-28 
Agyptiaca (Manetho), 56—57 
Air France, 153 
Akheperkare-seneb, 32 
Alexander the Great, 56 
A1 Mamun, 7, 8, 103, 203n2 
Amenemhet (King of Egypt), 25 
Ammenmesu, 32 
Arabian Nights, 8 
Arbuthnot, Lady, 149 
Arc de Triomphe, 40 
Archaeology magazine, 171 
Architects, 35, 37-42, 43-45. See 
also Houdin, Jean-Pierre 
defined, 55-56 

Armand, 1—2 

Arnold, Dieter, 19—21, 152, 181, 

Association Construire la Grande 
Pyramide (ACGP), xi 
Association for Research and 
Enlightenment, 64 
Astronomers, 60, 73, 74 
Aswan granite quarry, 96, 109, 
199-200. See also Quarries 


Baron, Jean-Pierre, 137—138 
Bats, 11 

Battle of Kadesh, 8 
Battle of the Nile, 149 
Bauefre, Prince, 51 
Begin, Menachem (Prime Minis- 
ter of Israel), 8 



Benches, 95, 101, 103 
Bent Pyramid of Dashur, 33—35, 
59, 140, 202 
Bernal, Martin, 205nl5 
Birch, Dr. Samuel, 150 
Blocks, 113-124, 144. See also 
Hemienu; Ramps 
Boat Beneath the Pyramid, 52—54 
Boats, 114 
construction, 53-54 
sewn, 54 

for stone block transportation, 70 
Borchardt, Ludwig, 181, 183 
Breitner, Richard, 156, 157, 159, 
161, 162 
Bridges, 38-39 

Bridges and Roads Laboratory, 

Brier, Bob, 152 

British Museum, 14, 15, 150 

Brousse, Mr., 153 

Bui, Hui Duong, 90-91, 133-135 

Building in Egypt (Arnold), 19 

Burial chambers, 15, 18, 68, 

107—112, 195. See also Cenotaph 
above-ground, 30 
recreation by 3-D computer, 

underground, 79-83 

Campbell, Colonel, 150 
Capstone, 140, 145-150 
Carter, Howard, 196 
CATIA software, 157, 158 
Cayce, Edgar, 64 
Cenotaph, 28. See also Burial 

Chapel, 18 
Cheops boat, 53 
Chirac, President, 47 
Christianity, 12 
Cleopatra VII, 56 
CNISF. See Conseil National des 
Ingenieurs et des Scientifiques 
de France 

Colossus of Rhodes, 7 
Conflans Bridge, 38 
Conseil National des Ingenieurs 
et des Scientifiques de France 
(CNISF), xi 
Copper, 68, 72, 200 
Corbelled ceiling, 30-32, 33-34, 
35, 68, 95, 107 
Coucy Castle, 152 
Counterweights, 97, 100, 101, 
102, 103, 109, 110, 132, 152 
Crane, 130, 131 


Daoud, 149, 150 

Dashur Pyramid, 81—82, 116, 


Dassault, Marcel, 156 
Dassault Systemes, 156, 162, 
164-165, 171 
Davison’s Chamber, 149 
Death, 14, 49 
burial and, 15, 18 
chapel, 18 

funerary furniture, 4 
De Closets, Francois, 48, 161, 

Deletie, Pierre, 133-135 
Diodorus of Sicily, 120 
Dixon, Waynman, 203— 204n3 



Djadja-em-ankh, 51 
Djehuti-hotep, 96 
Dormion, Gilless, 86-89 


Ecole des Arts et Metiers, 2, 37 
Ecole des Beaux-Arts, 40 

calendar, 50-51 
construction, 113 
farming, 14 

immortality of Egyptians, 


middle class, 14 
Old Kingdom, 18 
records, 8 
unification, 24 
war and, 24 

Egyptian Antiquities Service, 52, 


Egyptian Museum (Berlin, Ger- 
many), 50 

Egyptian Museum (Cairo, 

Egypt), 24 

Egyptian Museum (Torino, Italy), 

Eiffel, 152, 160 

Embalmers, 54—55. See Mummi- 

Emery, Walter B., 192, 193 

Foster, Norman (Sir), 160 
French Ministry of Foreign Rela- 
tions, 88 

French National Society of Engi- 
neers and Scientists, 126 
Funerary furniture, 4 


Gabri, Ali, 115 
The Gallery, 66 
Gallery 43, 41 
Gantenbrink, Rudolph, 
Gehry, Frank, 161 
Ginger, 14-15, 18 
Giza Plateau, xi, 7, 9, 47-48, 59, 
81, 114, 116, 122, 130, 146, 
172, 187, 198 
bedrock plateau, 76-77 
map of, 62-63 
Giza pyramids, 9 
early depictions of, 10 
Gnomon, 73 

Goidin, Jean-Patrice, 86-89 
Goneim, Zakariah, 194—195 
GPR. See Ground penetrating 

Graffiti, 175, 194 
Granaries, 9, 65, 204n5 
Grand Gallery, 4, 8, 11, 48, 86, 
93-106, 104, 135, 140, 141, 
147, 161. See also Great Pyra- 
mid of Giza 
ceiling, 105-106 
gouges on the walls, 102 
grading, 95 

purpose, 93-95, 97, 105 
relationship to King’s Chamber, 

rigging system, 105 
room versus passageway, 93-95 
sidewalls, 106 
stone benches in, 95 
Granite, 68-72, 98-99, 102, 105, 



Granite, (cont.) 

Aswan, 68 

dolerite pounders, 69 
Great pyramid of Giza, 1. See also 
Grand Gallery 
angles, 202 
burial chambers, 11 
capstone, 140, 145-150 
chambers, 4 

computer analysis, 89-90 
computer 3-D simulations, 130, 

computer modeling, 157-165 
construction, 70, 75-76 
cracks in, 140, 141, 142 
entrances, 126 
graffiti, 175, 194 
granaries and, 9 
ground penetrating radar and, 

hauling blocks theory, 3 
hidden chambers, 85—91 
internal ramps, 139—144, 
155-165, 171-183 
King’s Chamber, 4, 8, 11, 48, 
86, 93, 95, 110, 142, 169-170 
limestone versus granite 
blocks, 3 

microgravimetric study, 133 
mysteries, 8 

the notch, 137-138, 143, 

passageways, 86, 116 
Queen’s Chamber, 4, 7-8, 48, 
81, 82-83, 86, 90, 93, 107 
rafters, 168-169 
ramp drawings, 126, 127, 128, 

ramps. See Ramps 
ramp theory, 3-4, 21, 123, 

relieving chambers, 107—112 
stories about, 9, 11 
thermal photography, 185—188 
tunnel, 176 

ventilation, 203-204n3 
work groups, 64 
Greaves, John, 9, 11 
Ground penetrating radar (GPR), 

Guggenheim Museum (Spain), 

Gypsum, 72 


Hanging Gardens of Babylon, 7 
Harvard— Boston Museum, 196 
Hathor, 178, 179 
Hatshepsut (Queen of Egypt), 71 
Hawass, Dr. Zahi, 186, 187 
Heb-Sed Festival, 28 
Hemienu, 55-61, 80, 93, 107, 
113-124, 139-144, 145-150, 


Herodotus, 117, 120, 130, 202 
Hetepheres (Queen of Egypt), 33, 

Hieroglyphs, 64, 96 
Hildesheim Museum (Germany), 

Historia (Herodotus), 117 
Hoover Dam, 44 
Horus-Sekhem-Khet, 14, 194, 


Houdin, Bernard, 38, 40, 47, 152, 




Houdin, Henri, 2, 37-42, 47-48, 
125-132, 133-135, 153 
Houdin, Jean-Pierre, xiii, 1—5, 
126, 151-153, 207n52 
in the Ivory Coast, 38-41 
Montgolfier Prize and, 153 
in New York City, 43—45 
in Paris, 37-42, 44-45 
Houdin, Michelle, 41, 135, 151, 

Houdin, Renee, 151 
Houphouet Boigny Bridge, 38 
How the Great Pyramid Was Built 
(Smith), 160 

Huni (King of Egypt), 205nl4 
Hypostyle Hall, 107, 108 


IAEG. See International Associa- 
tion for Engineering Geology 
and the Environment 
Imhotep, 23-28, 191-193 
Immortality, 13—14 
International Association for 
Engineering Geology and the 
Environment (IAEG), 90 
Israel, 8-9 

Ivory Coast, 38-41, 47-48 


Joseph, 9, 204n5 
Josephson, Jack, 1, 152 


Kamal el-Mallakh, 52 
Karnak Temple, 107, 108, 121, 

Kephren (King of Egypt), 35 

Kerisel, Jean, 38-39, 47-48 
Kha, 13 

Khufu (King of Egypt), 35, 54, 
59, 79, 125, 135, 145, 150, 
151-153, 197, 198, 199-200 
King’s Chamber. See Great Pyra- 
mid of Giza 
Klein, Calvin, 41 
Kochab, 73 
Krauss, Rolf, 61 


La Geode, 158-159, 160, 162, 

Lauer, Jean-Fran^ois, 48 
Laurent, 44 

The Learning Channel, 3 
Lehner, Mark, 65 
Les Enfants Gates (The Rotten 
Kids), 41 

Life and Work at the Great Pyramid 
(Smyth), 12 

Lighthouse at Alexandria, 7 
Limestone, 67, 112 
Lost City, 65, 66 
Lycee Carnot, 40 


Maker of Stone Vessels. See Im- 

Manetho, 56 
Manor, 66 

Mariette, August, 186 
Mastabas (tombs), 16-17, 18, 25 
Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, 7 
Measurements, 11, 12, 115 
Meidum Pyramid, 29—35, 81—82, 



Meketre, 204n5 
Memphis, 57—58 
Mendelssohn, Kurt, 29 
Meridien Etoile, 160 
Merit, 13 

Mesana, Renee, 37-42 
Mesopotamians, 50 
Metropolitan Museum of Art, 19, 
181, 204n5 

Middle Kingdom pyramids, 116 

Military, 96 

Millau Viaduct, 160 

Mirage jet, 156 

Mizar, 73 

Monitor, 70 

Montgolfier Prize, 153 
Mortar, 72 

Mummies, 14—15, 191—193 
Mummification, 13—14, 55. See 
also Embalmers 
Mut Is Content, 8 
The Mystery of the Pyramids, 48 


Napoleon, 118-119, 153 
Narmer (King of Egypt), 24 
Narmer Palette, 24 
National Geographic, 172 
Nefertum, 57 

Nelson, Horatio (Admiral), 149 
Nile, 24, 66 

Ni-Userre (King of Egypt), 181 
Noak’s Ark, 12 
North Star, 73 


Obelisk, 71, 96, 181, 199-200 
Old Testament, 8 

Operation Kheops, 88-89, 137, 

Osiris (God of the Dead), 57 
Overseer of the Quarries, 58 
Overseer of Transport, 58 


Palermo Stone, 49-50 
Papyrus, 50 

Passageways, 86, 115-116 
Passion for Innovation, 156 
Perring, John, 149 
Petrie, William M. Flinders, 
114-116, 199-200 
Pharaoh, 8, 9, 14 
Pithium, 8 
Plato, 32, 205nl5 
Priests, 96 

Ptah (creator God), 57, 192 
Pyramidion, 145—150 
Pyramidographia (Greaves), 11 
Pyramids. See also Dashur Pyra- 
mid; Giza pyramids; Great 
Pyramid of Giza; Meidum 
Pyramid; Middle Kingdom 
pyramids; Red Pyramid; Step 
Pyramid of Saqqara 
angles, 201-202 
corbelled ceilings, 30-32 
Middle Kingdom, 116 
orienting, 73 
overview, 7—8 
stepped, 117 
Pythagoras, 32-33 


Quarries, 30, 66-67, 69-72. See 
also Aswan granite quarry 



Queen’s chamber. See Great pyra- 
mid of Giza 


Radar, 152 

Ramps, 3-4, 21, 98-99, 121-123, 

angle of incline, 143 
computer-generated image, 134 
drawings, 126, 127, 128, 129 
internal, 139-144, 155-165, 

Ramses (city), 8 

Ramses the Great (pharaoh), 8, 


Rechmire, 120, 121 
Red Pyramid, 35, 59, 60, 61, 


Red Sea, 72 

Regional Museum of Archeology 
(Sicily), 49 

Reisner, George Andrew, 


Relieving chambers, 107—112, 

141, 147, 149 
Remler, Pat, 2 
Re (sun god), 51-52 
Ropes, 145-146 


Sacred cubit, 12, 13 
Saqqara cemetery, 15, 58, 191 
Sarcophagus, 4, 8, 79, 109, 115, 
195, 197, 199-200 
Scaparro, Jack, 2 
Schiaparelli, Ernesto, 13 
Schlosser, Francois, 168 
SEIN. See Societe 

d’Encouragement pour 
l’lndustrie Nationale 
Seked. See Pyramids, angles 
Sekhem-Khet (King of Egypt), 


Sekhmet, 57 

Sesostris (King of Egypt), 25 
Seven wonders of the world, 7 
Sewn boat, 54 
Shadoufs, 117, 118-119, 120 
SIMULIA program, 167 
Sinai Desert, 72 
Smith, Craig B., 160, 161 
Smith, Joseph Lindon, 197—198 
Smyth, Piazzi, 11—12, 114—115, 

Sneferu (King ofEgypt), 32, 34, 
49-50, 198, 205nl4 
Societe d’Encouragement pour 
l’lndustrie Nationale (SEIN), 

Societe des Ingenieurs des Arts et 
Metiers, 155 
Solomon’s Temple, 12 
Son of Re, 25 
Southern Burial, 28 
Spanish winch, 146, 148 
Sphinx, 64, 85, 121, 149, 177 
Spry-Leverton, Peter, 160 
Stadelmann, Dr. Rainer, 60—61, 

Statue of Zeus, 7 
Statues, 4 
Stela, 30 

Step Pyramid of Saqqara, 25, 59, 
193, 194 

exterior walls, 26 
outside view, 26 



Stocks, Denys, 200 
Stone blocks, gravitational force 
and, 88-89. See also Trolley 
Sun temple, 181, 183 
Supreme Council of Antiquities, 
185, 186 


Tayoubi, Mehdi, 156-157, 159 
Telescope, 115 
Temple of Artemis, 7 
Temple of Dendera, 178, 179, 
180, 181 

Thales Group, 152 
Thales of Miletus, 32-33 
Theodolite, 115 
Tombs, 16-17, 18 
paintings in, 96, 121 
Tools, 67 
Toth, 192 

Treasure, 147, 150, 195, 196 
Trenches, 115 
Triangulation, 115 
“Triumvirate,” 157—159 
Trolley, 97, 100, 101, 102, 103, 

Tura, 67, 72 

Tutankhamen, 21, 65, 152, 195, 196 
Tuthmosis III (King of Egypt), 32 


Valley Temple of Kephren, 32, 85 
Ventilation shafts, 127 
Victory in Thebes, 8 
Vizier, 120 

Vyse, Howard (Colonel), 149-150 

Weapons, 8 
Webb, William, 70 
Webb Institute for Naval Archi- 
tecture, 70 

Wellington, Duke of, 149 
Wepwawet, 203-204n3 
Westcar Papyrus, 50, 51 
The White Wall. See Memphis 
Widener Library (Harvard), 198 


Yoshimura, Dr. Sakuji, 89-90 

Zoser (King of Egypt), 23, 25, 

27, 32 

About the Authors 

Bob Brier is a world-famous Egypt- 
ologist who has conducted research on 
pyramids and tombs in fifteen countries. 

A senior research fellow at the C.W. Post 
campus of Long Island University, he is the 
author of seven books, including The Mur- 
der of Tutankhamen, and hosted the Great 
Egyptian series for the Learning Channel. 

Jean-Pierre Houdin left his 
Parisian architecture firm in 1999 to devote 
himself to solving the mystery of the Great 
Pyramid. He has been awarded the Mont- 
golfier Prize for his research. 

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